Betting KnowledgeFeaturedGambling GuidesOpinion FeaturesSports Betting KnowledgeState Laws & Legislation

Overview: Online Sports Betting In Rhode Island

Online Sports Betting In Rhode Island: Twin River Casino Hotel Sportsbook: Nicholas Mattiello, John Taylor, Dominick Ruggerio
Rhode Island is a small but mighty sports betting state. It was the first state in the Northeast to legalize sports betting. However, the way Rhode Island legalized it caused a stir within the legislature. (Although, the slam dunk judicial victories suggest the controversy was more political posturing than a serious concern.) Rhode Island also didn’t get sports betting quite right the first time, either. It had to make some changes along the way to make it more accessible for bettors. And more profitable for the state.

How Rhode Island Launched Sports Betting

Although it’s not the first state to consider doing this, Rhode Island saw the most controversy over it. Rhode Island didn’t vote on a ballot initiative, and the legislature didn’t send a bill to the Governor’s desk. Instead, Governor Gina Raimondo legalized sports betting through the state budget. Since the state budget is a list of spending obligations and sources of revenue, two things must happen:
  • Sources of income must deliver.
  • Expenses become obligations.
But Governor Raimondo didn’t legalize sports wagering on a whim. Six years of votes laid the groundwork for sports betting’s inclusion in Rhode Island’s budget. In 2012 and 2016, Rhode Island voters approved casino gambling in their state. Casino gaming includes Class III games, which is a broad category of gaming that includes:
  • Slots
  • Blackjack
  • Craps
  • Sports Betting
Since voters approved casino gaming when they approved Rhode Island’s casinos, they approved all the types of casino gaming that casinos can offer. That includes sports betting. So, Governor Raimondo and the Democratic House didn’t pull a coup. They called for a type of casino gaming that had been approved in two different elections. On June 15, 2018, sports betting was officially legal in Rhode Island.

How Rhode Island Went Mobile

Rhode Island's sports betting industry began as a retail-only model. On November 26, 2018, Twin Rivers Casino in Lincoln accepted the first sports wager. However, Rhode Island looked for ways to expand sports betting after it went live. Mobile sports betting was the next step. On September 4, 2019, the Sportsbook Rhode Island launched its mobile app. Bettors had to register their accounts in person, but they could wager from anywhere in-state after that. Nevertheless, the launch seemed to go well. The Rhode Island Lottery even met its goal of launching mobile sports betting before the NFL season. Everything looked rosy until the pandemic. In-person registration wasn’t a good idea when a contagious respiratory disease was ravaging the planet. Sports betting revenues dropped when new users stopped signing up. So, Rhode Island passed a bill that got rid of the in-person registration requirement. At that point, Rhode Island’s only flaw was having a lottery-run sportsbook industry. Limiting the number of sportsbooks depresses competition, leading to worse odds, fewer bonuses for bettors, and possibly less revenue for the state. Rhode Island takes 51% of the State Lottery’s profits, which it can do since it’s state-owned. But if Rhode Island ever wants to transition to a private-run sports gambling industry, it’ll likely have to lower its tax rate. (DraftKings only tolerates New Hampshire’s 50% tax rate because the state gave it a monopoly.) But Rhode Island has optimistic tax revenue goals for the upcoming fiscal year. It’s projected to make $26.3 million from sports betting. Compared to the first year’s revenue of $6.9 million, that’s quite hopeful. Introducing mobile sports gambling and eliminating in-person registration give Rhode Island a chance to meet that goal. But the proof will be in the final numbers.

The Ongoing Lawsuits Over Rhode Island Sports Betting

One representative has been opposed to sports betting in Rhode Island since its inception. When Rhode Island originally legalized sports gambling in 2018, GOP legislators wanted an amendment to the state’s budget. They wanted a court opinion on whether the Governor could legalize sports betting. Well, they got one. In 2019, Daniel Harrop sued Rhode Island to stop sports gambling. AP News reports he doesn’t mind gambling – apparently, Harrop decided to sue during a roulette game. He argued that voters never approved sports betting because they never voted on it. But, technically, when voters approved casino gaming, they approved sports betting. Sports betting is included under the umbrella of “casino gaming,” so there wasn’t a legal issue. On June 2, 2020, Judge Brian Stern ruled against Harrop. Judge Stern cited the “plain language” of the 2012 and 2016 ballot initiatives as proof voters approved – among other types of gaming – sports betting. Governor Raimondo and the Rhode Island Lottery won round one. But watch for a passionate appeal from Harrop and other Republican activists.

Online Sports Betting In Rhode Island

Rhode Island’s Lottery runs the state’s mobile sportsbook. Governor Raimondo brought sports betting to Rhode Island thanks to ballot initiatives from 2012 and 2016. Rhode Island began with retail-only sports gambling and progressed to mobile sports gambling. The state eliminated in-person registration, too, giving Rhode Islanders a convenient sports betting option. As more neighboring states legalize sports gambling, Rhode Island may have to transition to a private-run sports betting industry. But until then, Rhode Island has a convenient sports betting option. Anyone who wants to get in on the action can read our Gambling 101 guides to figure out how.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *