Two days before the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers kick off the 2019-2020 NFL season, Rhode Island’s two sportsbooks, its regulator, and its operator are likely sitting with their collective fingers hovering over the proverbial button.
A court hearing set for Wednesday will determine if the state can go live with mobile sports betting ahead of the kickoff, and all eyes will be on the Rhode Island Superior Court Wednesday morning as it considers a case filed in May by former Republican Providence mayoral candidate, Dr. Daniel Harrop. The suit claims that the state illegally legalized sports betting in June 2018, and that the decision should have been put to the voters.
Wednesday’s hearing could result in an injunction, which would delay the mobile launch. Last week, according to the Providence Journal, the town of Tiverton, home to one of the state’s two casinos, filed a brief asking the court to decide the constitutionality issue as soon as possible. And earlier in August, the state moved to have the case dismissed, arguing that Harrop doesn’t have the standing to sue.
In-person registration required
Wednesday’s outcome will determine if mobile sports betting goes live in the next 48 hours — and if the state’s physical sportsbooks can stay open.
Assuming Judge Brian Stern does not issue an injunction, the state regulators are ready to go live as soon as possible.
“The plan is to move forward unless the judge gives us some reason us to pause,” Rhode Island Department of Revenue Public Information Office Paul Grimaldi told Sports Handle.
Las Vegas sportsbook operator @CircaSports was first US book to hang Week 2 college football numbers. Other US operators that are up: Rhode Island Lottery and Scarlet Pearl in Mississippi.
— David Payne Purdum (@DavidPurdum) September 1, 2019
The plan would be for the state regulator, the Rhode Island Lottery, to announce a soft launch as quickly as possible after the hearing directing would-be bettors to sportsbetri.com, where they can download the forms needed to register in person at either Twin River or Tiverton. Grimaldi said the expectation is that properly filled-out forms would be approved quickly and patrons could place wagers via the mobile app the same day.
The site has a “Betting 101” section, as well as tabs for when, where and how to bet.
Grimaldi himself will send out a “blast press release” announcing the launch, and local media outlets will spread the word from there. Operator William Hill likely has plans for television and print media advertisements, as well as billboards, though those probably won’t pop up immediately. But given that Rhode Island remains the only New England state with legal live sports betting, it’s a good bet that advertising will stretch into the adjacent Massachusetts and Connecticut.
Patriots, Red Sox, oh my!
Boston teams are the very fabric of New England, and the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots kick off their title defense with a Sunday night game against the rival Pittsburgh Steelers at Foxborough. Though the Red Sox aren’t likely to defend their world championship, baseball is in a New Englander’s DNA, so Rhode Island will like capitalize on Bay Staters wanting to wager on the home team. The NBA Celtics and NHL Bruins are also big draws in season.
Going to be very interested to see these kind of regional liabilities for books as sports betting expands (like how RI sportsbooks suffered when Patriots won Super Bowl in Feb.) https://t.co/6pzXkXtK32
— Ben Fawkes (@BFawkesESPN) August 27, 2019
It’s only about an hour from Fenway Park in the heart of Boston to the Twin River Casino, and less than that to the Rhode Island-Massachusetts border. The Tiverton Casino sits nearly on the border, adjacent to Fall River, Mass.
When mobile sports betting does go live, bettors will be able to make straight bets, parlays, futures bets, prop bets, teaser bets and round robin bets. In Rhode Island, it is legal to bet on professional and collegiate sports, though there is a carve out that prohibits wagering on Rhode Island college teams or collegiate events taking place in the state.
The only other New England state to legalize sports betting is New Hampshire, which did so over the summer and is targeting a 2020 launch.