Rhode Island was one of the first states to approve sports betting in the past year. And the state has continued to pave the way for legalized sports gambling in more ways than one as the New England territory is gearing up to let bettors legally use mobile operators.
But Rhode Island's progress has already hit a major hurdle. The state appears primed to pass a bill – as early as next week – that would only let bettors place legal sports bets within state lines after they register in-person at one of the state’s two casinos.
Because mobile betting is often the easiest form of placing a wager, forcing in-person registrations could deter some. This could cause uneasiness right off the bat, as eligible bettors might decide that physically signing up is too much trouble.
This hurdle could cost Rhode Island revenue and might lead to illegal bookmakers or offshore sports betting sites profiting, perhaps wrecking the online market’s revenue potential going forward.
There are two versions of such a bill -- SB 37 and HB 5241 -- that can still be amended, but both appear more than likely to keep an in-person registration clause. Nonetheless, some sort of increased revenue from online sports betting seems inevitable in Rhode Island, even if that revenue takes a bit of a hit from this regulation.
“The new in-person sportsbook that opened in November has been very popular, with lines sometimes stretching out the doors,” Rhode Island Senate President Dominick Ruggerio said, according to WPRI. “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."
Proponents of forcing bettors to register in person say such visits to the two casinos will increase revenue for those entities. The argument goes that a good fraction of those who show up at a casino to register could decide to stay.
The question still remains: Will this added revenue stream through casinos ultimately become more valuable than just letting bettors register from home? If bettors didn’t have to physically register, would more people bet online? It seems almost certain that ikt's a chance Rhode Island is willing to take.