Sports betting reaches all-time high; mobile app activation still lags

Business News

LINCOLN, R.I. (WPRI) — Twin River will soon launch an initiative to encourage would-be bettors to activate their mobile sports betting apps, a process that currently requires users to visit Twin River’s Lincoln or Tiveron casinos in person.

Twin River spokesperson Patti Doyle told Eyewitness News the program is in its testing phase and will likely be launched within a week or two. It’s unclear what exactly the program will entail, but the goal is to get folks who’ve downloaded the app to become active users.

According to numbers provided by the R.I. Department of Revenue, 17,199 people have registered for the app as of Dec. 2, but only 7,834 – or about 45% – had physically visited a casino to activate their accounts. Of those who had, 6,425 had money to fund their accounts.

Rhode Island’s constitution requires in-person activation at one of the two state-owned casinos, something Victor Matheson, an economics professor at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, said is a “pretty onerous thing.”

“Clearly the mobile app is much less attractive in Rhode Island than it appears to be in all the other states in the U.S. as well as other countries that have mobile gambling,” he said.

Nevada and Iowa also require users to complete the activation process in person, but Iowa plans to phase out the requirement in 2021.

Matheson, whose research focuses on sports economics, lotteries and gambling, said in Pennsylvania about 80% of sports betting revenue is generated through the mobile app, while the remaining 20% comes from in-person bets. In Rhode Island, the inverse is true.

November was the best month for Rhode Island sports betting since its inception, with more than $31 million in bets placed. So far this fiscal year, in-person sports betting at the two Twin River casinos has generated $7.9 million in revenue. Mobile betting generated about $1.4 million in its first three months, with monthly wagers more than doubling from September to November. (The casino company and the state split the proceeds.)

“The numbers certainly show the difference: everywhere in the United States and everywhere in the world that has mobile gambling, all of the sports gambling goes in on the mobile site rather than in casinos,” Matheson said. “So making people actually go to the casino to play on the mobile app is something completely different.”

New Hampshire launched its mobile sports betting app on Monday, and it doesn’t require in-person registration. Matheson doesn’t think this will cause a direct problem for Rhode Island, but indirectly, it could: by spurring Massachusetts to follow suit.

Matheson believes the establishment of mobile sports betting in the Bay State might create competition for its smaller neighbor, with a trip across the border taking mere minutes for some (mobile bets must be placed within state lines). The pressure, Matheson said, could spur Rhode Island to relax its current mobile gaming requirements.

“My 2020 gambling prediction is Massachusetts will at least have adopted sports gambling by the end of 2020,” he said. “It may not have been implemented yet, but they will have passed all the regulations to get it adopted, and Rhode Island will also loosen the rules on sports gambling as well.”

According to the Department of Revenue, 11,411 people who’ve downloaded the app are from Rhode Island, while Massachusetts accounts for 4,925, Connecticut for 509 and New Hampshire for 135. It’s unclear from the data how app activation breaks down by state.

State data shows other forms of gambling like table games, video terminals and the lottery, are holding steady in Rhode Island. Matheson said it remains to be seen if sports betting is attracting new bettors and new money, or if current gamblers are shifting their bets from the Blackjack table to the Patriots game, or are now wagering even more.

“That’ll be of course an interesting thing for academics and government officials to research over the next few years to see whether there’s cannibalization in all of these different gambling products, whether one thing replaces another, or whether it actually adds to the total revenue pool that states are generating,” he said.

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