Court decision makes way for legal sports betting at Twin River

Court decision makes way for legal sports betting at Twin River

LINCOLN – Twin River and the state’s taxpayers stand to win big now that a proposal to relax rules against gambling on sports has backing from the nation’s highest court.

State Senate President Dominick Ruggerio on Monday applauded a Supreme Court ruling in Christie v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, freeing states to offer sports betting.

“In anticipation of this decision, I introduced legislation this year to enable sports betting at the facilities where it has been approved by voters already, Twin River in Lincoln and the new venue being constructed in Tiverton,” he said.

The state is planning on $23.5 million in revenue from sports gambling in its 2018-2019 budget.

Patti Doyle, spokeswoman for Twin River, issued a statement after Monday’s court decision.

“We are currently reviewing today’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling and its implication for sports betting in Rhode Island. That said, during the last couple of months, we began to consider how our two Rhode Island venues – Twin River Casino in Lincoln and the soon to open Tiverton Casino and Hotel – could possibly accommodate the addition of sports betting should the ruling prove favorable to Rhode Island,” she said.

“That review has included space and staff considerations. We will continue that review and planning process,” she added. “We look forward to learning more about the state’s approach to sports betting.”

Changes at Twin River would likely significantly increase revenue to the Lincoln-based casino, with a portion of proceeds going to the state coffers.

Brian Murtha, a Pawtucket resident and frequent poker player at Twin River, said he plans to start dabbling a bit in betting on NFL games, but nothing big. He said he did it in Las Vegas and it was fun. If he recalls correctly, said Murtha, a three-team parlay for $25 wins $125.

The American Gaming Association estimated that $4.7 billion was wagered on Super Bowl 51 in 2017, of which 97 percent was illegal. Some $138.5 million was wagered legally in Nevada on that same Super Bowl.

The underground sports betting economy in the United States is worth roughly $150 billion each year. Until now, Rhode Islanders wishing to participate in this activity had to bring their money out of state, or play illegally.

“Enabling legal sports wagering in Rhode Island would provide revenue for critical state services while providing a new entertainment option for Rhode Islanders,” said Ruggerio in a statement. “The state now has an opportunity to offer a legal means for Rhode Islanders to enjoy a form of entertainment in which many already engage. Sports gaming also provides the state with a revenue stream that supports critical priorities, such as investing in roads and schools, without increasing the tax burden on citizens.”

Ruggerio’s legislation and the related budget article were scheduled for a hearing Tuesday afternoon at a joint meeting of the Senate Finance Committee and Senate Special Legislation and Veterans Affairs Committee, which reviews gaming matters.

In addition to Ruggerio, of District 4 (North Providence, Providence), the bipartisan list of sponsors includes Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey, Senate Minority Leader Dennis Algiere, Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin, and Sen. Frank Ciccone III, of District 7 in North Providence.

House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said in a statement that he’s pleased the Supreme Court made its ruling in time for the state’s budget deliberations. He said he has been on record as supporting sports betting if it is ruled legal, and that day has come.

“I look forward to finalizing the details,” he said.

A spokesman for Gov. Gina Raimondo said the administration took proactive measures in anticipation of the ruling. Attorney Gen. Peter Kilmartin has led the initiative, and the state is in the process of developing the infrastructure to begin sports betting this fall and keep revenue in Rhode Island.

Rep. William O’Brien, of District 54 in North Providence, called attention Monday to his bill that would allow social gaming in private residences, public taverns, and private clubs. O’Brien’s bill would legalize activities such as NCAA basketball tournament pools as long as there is a social relationship between participants and no person other than the participants receives anything of value.

“Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has decided to allow states to pursue legalized sports betting, there is no reason why this practical and reasonable legislation that would make every office pool or good-natured wager between friends and family no longer a crime,” said O’Brien in a statement. “Also, as a member of the House Finance Committee, I am pleased by the decision reached by the Supreme Court today, as it allows the Finance Committee to truly analyze and consider the governor’s proposed budget article that includes sports betting in the budget.”

O’Brien’s legislation further establishes that no entry fees or proceeds from the gaming can be paid to the house, host, owner or manager of the establishment or private home.