obile sports betting is one step closer to becoming a reality in Rhode Island after the Senate voted to allow mobile wagering through the Twin River casinos in Lincoln and Tiverton.
The legislation appears to be on the fast track, with a similar House version of mobile gaming expected to get a vote later this month, according to spokesperson Larry Berman.
The bill would require sports fans to register for an account in person at one of Twin River's two casinos before having access to the app. Users could then wager on professional and college sports (excluding Rhode Island collegiate teams) from mobile devices anywhere inside Rhode Island borders.
“The new in-person sportsbook that opened in November has been very popular, with lines sometimes stretching out the doors,” said Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, who is the lead sponsor on the bill. “It is an entertainment option that many Rhode Islanders enjoy, and visitors from outside the state are also flocking to our gaming facilities to place their wagers on sporting events."
The bill passed 31 to 4. Providence Senator Sam Bell was one of the opponents, arguing that mobile gaming should be implemented in a competitive marketplace, rather than just through Twin River. The bill requires all of the computer servers to be hosted at the state's licensed casinos.
"We would be giving a monopoly on online sports gambling to an existing business, Twin River, creating a monopoly in the state of Rhode Island," Bell said during the floor debate. "And this is America, we are supposed to be a free market economy where we have free market competition."
Sen. Donna Nesselbush, D-Pawtucket, said she supports online gambling and voted in favor of the bill. But she questioned whether it would face a legal challenge since Rhode Island's constitution requires a voter referendum for "expanding the types of gambling which are permitted within the state or within any city."
"I think smart minds could read the law and the requirements both ways, and because of that I do think that someday it wouldn't surprise me if the Supreme Court weighs in on it," Nesselbush said.
Ruggerio disagreed, arguing that extending sports betting to the internet isn't a true expansion that would meet the definition for a referendum.
"It's really not an expansion of sports betting, it's just a different method of wagering," Ruggerio said.
Similar questions were raised last year when in-person sports betting was first legalized by the General Assembly. State leaders at the time said sports betting fell under the previously voter-approved table gaming at Twin River.
"What's the harm in asking the voters?" asked Bell. "What's the harm in protecting ourselves from a lawsuit?"
House lawmakers are also weighing a mobile sports betting bill, sponsored by House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello. At a hearing last week, a lawyer for DraftKings recommended lawmakers allow for multiple vendors to run sportsbook apps, giving sports fans several options for wagering.
Lawmakers at that hearing also discussed whether problem gambling could be worsened by the easy access of mobile gaming. Officials from the state lottery said by requiring users to register in person for the app, employees at Twin River will be able to run names through the problem gambling database and prevent compulsive gamblers from signing up.