Rhode Island lawmakers were counting on an immediate windfall of revenue from sports betting when they legalized sports wagering in June. But five months later, neither of the state’s two commercial casinos have opened their sportsbooks, and the projected opening date of Oct. 1 has come and gone.
Why? Testing of software is still ongoing, and negotiations between the state’s two casinos and William Hill and IGT, who will operate the sportsbooks, is taking longer than expected, according to Rhode Island Department of Revenue chief of information and public relations Paul Grimaldi.
“Our expectation is for sports betting to begin around Thanksgiving. I cannot give you a specific date today as it is dependent on the completion of testing of the IGT/William Hill sports betting software,” Grimaldi told Sports Handle in an e-mail Tuesday. “They released the software to the Division of Lottery on Nov. 5 We expect two weeks +/- for completion of the testing. The sportsbook will start taking bets once the software is certified.”
Rhode Island Sports Betting Rollout Delayed by Testing and Negotiations With Vendors William Hill and IGT
The delay, according to a Providence Journal story, will cost the state $12 million of its projected $23.5 million in sports betting revenue for the period July 2018-July 2019. That loss will be partially offset by tax revenue gains from sales tax and overall gambling revenue, according to the story.
“I am frustrated with the delay in the implementation of sports gaming, and hopeful that it will be available in the very near future,” Rhode Island president of the Senate Dominick J. Ruggerio (D-District 4) told Sports Handle via e-mail Tuesday. “Sports gaming provides the state with revenue that offsets reliance on taxes to support essential state services, such as education and fixing roads and bridges.”
The Twin River and Tiverton casinos are owned by the same company and William Hill and IGT, the only approved operators in the state, will run sportsbooks at both locations. IGT will provide the sports wagering platform and William Hill will handle risk-management. To date, there’s a single sports betting window under construction at Twin River’s old horse- and dog-racing track, according to the Boston Globe, that will open ahead of more permanent facilities.
Neither casino mentions sports betting on their websites. Tiverton opened in September, and presumably built a sportsbook into the casino floor.
Rhode Island’ 51 percent tax on net sports betting revenue will be the highest in the nation.
In the last six weeks, Rhode Island has missed out on several key sports betting events, including the local Boston Red Sox winning their fourth World Series in 15 years, the start of the NHL and NBA seasons as well as the heart of the college and professional football seasons.
Despite Delay, Rhode Island Will Be First New England State to Take Sports Bets, Though Connecticut and Massachusetts Could Be Among 2019’s First Movers
But Rhode Island will still be the first of the New England states to open for sports betting. Lawmakers in both Connecticut and Massachusetts discussed sports betting during their 2018 sessions, but it didn’t get to a vote in either state.
Connecticut, which has the region’s oldest, most entrenched casinos – the tribal-owned Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun – ran into issues renegotiating tribal pacts months after lawmakers lambasted a representative from the professional leagues about the “integrity fee.”
Outgoing governor Dannel Malloy suggested a special session and offered to bridge the gap between the state and the tribes before setting a deadline for negotiations in August. Nothing materialized. The state of Massachusetts did commission a white paper to examine the feasibility of sports betting and the state’s first commercial casino, the MGM Springfield, opened in August. It sits just north of the Connecticut border and about an hour from the Rhode Island border.
Earlier in the session, several Massachusetts lawmakers filed comprehensive gaming bills that included sports betting and Representative Joseph Wagner (D-8th District), chairman of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, told a local television station that sports betting should be “on the front burner.”