Rhode Island Opens First New England Sports Book
For the moment Rhode Island and its two casinos dominate the New England sports betting market, since they are the only casinos to offer it. The first sports bet was placed at the Twin River casino’s Sportsbook Rhode Island in Lincoln on the Monday after Thanksgiving. The first major game was the Monday Night Football tussle between the Tennessee Titans and the Houston Texans.
The state’s top legislative leaders, Senate President Dominick Ruggerio and House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello placed the ceremonial first wagers with Twin River Chairman John Taylor. Winnings (if any) were donated to charity.
“Let’s get it on,” quipped Ruggerio. The Speaker bet $20 on the Boston Celtics, with a plus-2 spread over the New Orleans Pelicans. Ruggerio placed $20 on the Houston Oilers over the Tennessee Titans.
Mattiello commented, “I think there’s a lot of interest in gaming with our citizens. They’re going to get the opportunity to do it legally for the first time.”
Ruggerio added, “I’ve waited 40 years for this, a great revenue generator” so that Rhode Island can afford “spending money on renovations of the new schools.”
Twin River plans to introduce sports betting at Tiverton Hotel Casino next month. For the moment bets may only be placed in person. The Twin River casino is expected to introduce about 100 TV betting screens next month. This 3,600 square foot space on the second floor will look like the inside of a sports bar and offer tables with a more social vibe. It will accommodate about 200 people. The space had been solely occupied by the Wicked Good Bar & Grill, which will lose some square footage but remain open.
Temporarily bets can be placed at a section of the simulcast betting lounge on the first floor that caters to horse and dog race fans. Sportsbook Rhode Island offers theater seating that includes the original grandstand from the days when races were run at this location. Individual monitors offer bettors the opportunity to go through games or look at screens devoted to particular sports.
Bets may only be placed on professional and college teams, but not on Rhode Island college games. The maximum bet is $10,000 according to Taylor.
Betting through the use of mobile platforms and computers will follow within a few months, but first the Department of Revenue will study expanding it to lottery vendors, sports bars.
Ruggerio, who has pushed for sports betting in the state for decades, told reporters the day after sportsbook opened in the state that he is working on a bill that would allow mobile wagers anywhere. He will introduce the bill next in January, he said. “A lot of young people, millennials, are getting into sports gaming. DraftKings, fantasy football, things of that nature,” he said. “There is an interest and I think we can pursue that interest by offering mobile gaming.”
Speaker Mattiello commented on Ruggerio’s statement: “If his proposal enhances the gaming experience for Rhode Islanders while providing additional revenue for the state, it is certainly an idea worthy of a thorough review.”
Officials anticipate collecting about $11.5 million by the end of the fiscal year next June. That’s down from the original estimate of $23.5 million. Sports betting at the Twin River is expected to be around $814 million annually.
Twin River expects that its main gain from sports betting will be additional traffic that will bring more customers for all of its amenities, including dining. Craig Sculos, vice president and general manager of the casino, commented “It opens up our universe of players.”
The state will collect 51 percent of the revenue in taxes, with the vendor keeping 32 percent and the casino getting 17 percent. Taxes on gaming provides the state’s third largest revenue stream.
Lawmakers and state officials had originally hoped to have sports betting online by October 1 to take advantage of the holiday interest in sports, including two-thirds of the NFL season and the World Series, but negotiations with the vendors that manage the server, IGT and bookmaking company William Hill took an unexpectedly long time.
For the moment Rhode Island has the corner on the sports betting market because the neighboring states of Massachusetts and Connecticut have not yet legalized it. Connecticut’s situation is complicated by having two gaming tribes that operate large casinos. The state and the tribes have so far been unable to agree on who will offer sports betting. The tribes insist their tribal state gaming compacts give them a monopoly on all forms of gambling, but state officials don’t agree.
In the Bay State, legislators haven’t even begun to talk about legalizing sports betting, although some political observers predict that will change after the new session begins. House Speaker Robert DeLeo has offered to “listen to all sides pro and con” before introducing a bill.