Can Rhode Island Roll out Mobile Betting Before 2019 NFL Season?
On Wednesday night, a Rhode Island Senate sub-committee unanimously voted to pass a sports betting bill that would allow mobile wagering within the state. This was the first big hurdle for proponents of the bill. The Senate could vote as early as next week to approve the mobile betting bill.
Senate President Dominick Ruggerio has been the primary voice for the expansion of sports betting in Rhode Island and this bill. Ruggerio believes that sports betting could have a significant impact on the state’s economy from taxes to dining, entertainment, and other industries.
Sports Betting in Rhode Island
In late 2018, Rhode Island became the 8th state to offer legalized sports betting after the state’s two casinos started accepting legal wagers. Currently, the Ocean State is the only state in New England that allows sports betting and looks to expand on its early success.
With only two casinos allowed to accept sports wagers, state leaders quickly turned to other options for expanding their piece of the sports betting revenue pie. In mid-January, Ruggerio and some of his peers submitted the bill to legalize mobile betting. Roughly three weeks later, this bill is starting to clear major hurdles and appears to be heading for state acceptance provided that the Senate and the House stand unified on the matter.
Where Does the Governor Stand on Mobile Betting?
Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo seems to be on board with mobile betting as she has already included it in her 2019-20 Fiscal Year budget. She estimates that the state could earn $3 million in revenue for mobile betting. Some leaders estimate that number could climb as high as $8.5 million the next fiscal year. The budget also calls for $30 million in revenue from sports betting. This is based on early projections of revenue already made off the total handle and a 51% tax rate.
Registration Is a Sticking Point
Although the bill is clearing hurdles, there is one major sticking point that could delay majority approval. Ruggerio’s bill calls sports bettors to register for mobile betting by physically going down to one of the two casinos and complete the registration process. Although this falls in line with what Nevada did, other states like New Jersey skipped this aspect and has enjoyed a solid return on mobile betting.
Opponents to in-person registration say it’s a deterrent and could hinder the number of people willing to register. These politicians feel that in-person registration is a major inconvenience, and if the goal is to make betting more convenient for sports bettors, then in-person registration defeats the overall purpose.
When Will Mobile Betting Become Legal?
It’s hard to predict how long it will take for state leaders to pass this bill, especially if they’re debating aspects like in-person registration. However, it’s clear the general consensus is that Rhode Island can greatly benefit from mobile wagering and most leaders are on board with this revenue stream.
With that said, State Lottery officials estimate it could take up to six months for mobile betting to be up and running. That would start from the date that the bill is approved.
If all goes well and the bill gets approved by the beginning of March, then mobile betting would be active by the beginning of September. This would be just in time for the 2019 NFL season, which is a huge moneymaker for sportsbooks.
DraftKings Eyeing Rhode Island Mobile Betting
DraftKings has been a major player in the growing sports betting industry. One by one, as each state legalized sports betting, DraftKings has been there to partner with a major casino and offer a premier sports betting platform. It should come as no surprise that DraftKings is making a push to enter Rhode Island provided the state approves mobile betting.
If that holds true, the state might also look to change its tax structure for mobile betting in order to give more revenue to the mobile gaming operator like DK. Sarah Koch, DraftKings Director of Governmental Affairs, pointed out the challenges with Rhode Island’s current sports betting tax structure:
“We think that mobile is a different beast. With mobile, the operator has to advertise … and more revenue goes back into the product. The 32 percent (to operators) would make it very difficult for an operator to make a profit.”
It’s being proposed by Koch and state leaders that the mobile operator receive up to 42% of mobile betting, which would be a 10% increase.
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