Rhode Island lawmakers have voted to allow online registration for sports bettors.
The legislation now sits before Gov. Gina Raimondo. It would eliminate the current requirement of in-person registration at Twin River Casinos in Lincoln and Tiverton.
Bettors could have the luxury of registering to bet from home, therefore avoiding casino crowds during a global pandemic.
Lawmakers hope to make up lost ground
COVID-19 has largely motivated the move to allow bettors to register online instead of only in person. The state only has one mobile sportsbook.
Lawmakers believe the state has handcuffed itself by not having in place an option that could allow gamblers to register new accounts from home.
“This is one responsible move we can make to help counter some of the revenue losses the state has experienced during the pandemic,” said Senate President Dominick Ruggerio.
“Gaming and the lottery are our state’s third-largest source of revenue, and anything we can safely do to make up for some of the lost revenue helps to support public services.”
Ruggiero, who sponsored the Senate bill, was joined in his vocal support by House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, the House bill sponsor. Both bills, SB 2919 and HB 8097, received overwhelming support, making Raimondo’s approval a likely outcome.
“Making it more convenient to use our mobile sports wagering app provides an entertainment option that you can participate in from the safety and comfort of your own home,” noted Mattiello.
Lawmakers hope for best with increased access
The in-person signup requirement was established when Rhode Island legalized online sports betting in 2019.
It was meant to enhance security by limiting registration to the state’s two casinos. Both casinos reopened in early June at 25% capacity.
Many believe technologies like geolocation, utilized by multiple states across the nation, make security concerns invalid.
Signup limitations have instead led to decreased revenues during the pandemic and required people to enter social settings where they may not be comfortable, say the two prominent Democrats.
Figures tallied by Legal Sports Report show Rhode Island generated $1.18 million in state revenue from sports betting in February. In April, that number dipped to just over $13,000.
State revenue received a slight bump in May, but only reached slightly over $83,000.
The website also highlighted 14,000 sports betting accounts yet to complete registration at a Rhode Island casino. Those accounts could register remotely following Raimondo’s signature.
“There is sufficient security as well as safeguards in the program to ensure that users are placing their bets from within Rhode Island and complying with our state’s laws, so we can eliminate in-person signups without compromising anything,” added Mattiello.
The timing also coincides with Major League Baseball’s Opening Day on Thursday and the restart of the National Basketball Association next week.
Both will likely lead to a jump in sports wagering in Rhode Island.
Despite confidence, questions remain on mobile registration
There have been other factors limiting Rhode Island’s sports betting industry.
That includes the inherent limitations of operating with only one online sportsbook. Sportsbook behemoths like DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM and others are not yet present in the state.
Plus, lottery-run sports betting operations like Rhode Island’s have seen hiccups in other states. Issues have included app rollouts utilizing geofencing, and player registration and verification.
Republicans have also fought the bill and questioned the legality of expanding the state’s sports betting industry without voter approval. Certain lawmakers even questioned the issue’s standing before the state Supreme Court.
So, while remote registration would be good for bettors and Rhode Island’s bottom line, it’s a topic we haven’t yet heard the last of.