The latest word out of Rhode Island is that sports betting is set to commence around Thanksgiving. Twin River Casino in Lincoln is expected to begin taking bets later this month while the Twin River Casino in Tiverton is planning on launching in the first week of December.
The Providence Journal reports that Twin River in Lincoln will initially launch sports betting at a temporary location on the casino’s third floor. In the meantime, the casino plans to construct a permanent sportsbook on the second floor where Carmine’s used to be.
Twin River Lincoln also has plans to launch self-service betting kiosks about 14 weeks after the casino launches the physical sportsbook. Mobile betting, which will be restricted to patrons physically present on casino grounds, is expected to launch 15 weeks after the betting kiosks are installed.
Delayed Launch Dampens Revenue Projections
The prospect of sports betting coming to Rhode Island first appeared back in January when a measure added to the state budget included a projection of $23.5 million in new taxes derived from sports betting.
The projection at the time banked on the Supreme Court striking down the federal sports betting prohibition and then Rhode Island authorizing its casinos to begin taking sports wagers. As we know now, the Supreme Court did indeed strike down the prohibition in May.
Governor Gina Raimondo signed the budget in June and it was estimated at the time that sports betting would commence at the state’s casinos by October 1st. A series of delays have pushed back the start date, but now we have word from the Rhode Island Lottery that sports betting will be getting underway within the next few weeks.
As far as the estimated $23.5 million in additional state revenue derived from RI sports betting goes, that seems unlikely to happen. Not only did the projection seem a bit optimistic at the time, but the delayed start of sports betting caused the state’s casinos to miss out on the tail end of the MLB postseason and the bulk of the current NFL season.
State Budget Office Spokeswoman Amanda Clarke told the Providence Journal last week that a new revenue estimate will be released on Friday, November 9th. Given these delays and the fact that sports betting may only take place in-person at Rhode Island casinos, it will not be surprising to see more modest projections in the revised estimate.
What About Online Sports Betting in Rhode Island?
Online sports betting in Rhode Island would greatly increase the convenience factor for fans and in turn would boost the state’s revenue prospects. However, current legislation in Rhode Island specifies that mobile wagers be restricted to patrons who are physically present at the casino.
The prospect of true, state-wide mobile sports betting may be a long shot without a public referendum specifically authorizing online betting. Even then, a successful referendum would not automatically bring online betting to the state. Lawmakers would still have to act in order to formally authorize online wagers.
Still, that doesn’t make online sports betting impossible. The referendum would likely be the biggest hurdle, but even that might not necessarily need to be the case.
Back in May, DraftKings sent a representative to Rhode Island to support the state’s budget bill authorizing sports betting. DraftKings, which has no physical presence in Rhode Island, made the point that online betting may not need a referendum after all.
A series of referendums in Rhode Island have allowed the state to expand its gambling options over the years, including expanding the types of games that may be offered at RI casinos. One of those referendums was interpreted by the June budget bill to authorize sports wagers placed at local casinos.
The point that DraftKings made is that it all depends on where those bets are considered to occur. If it is determined that wagers placed through a mobile device actually take place at the casino where those wagers originate and are processed, then no new referendum is needed to authorize online betting in Rhode Island.
It’s an interesting argument, but not one we’ve heard much of in recent months. Rhode Island officials are entirely focused on getting in-person sports betting up and running successfully and are even taking their sweet time in allowing patrons to place mobile bets while on casino property.
To put it simply, Rhode Island does have a couple of paths to legalize online sports betting if state lawmakers wish to explore that option, but don’t hold your breath on anything happening too quickly.