PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Faced with an enormous budget deficit for the new fiscal year that began last week, top General Assembly Democrats are advancing a new idea to bring in more revenue: making it easier to bet on sports using your cell phone in Rhode Island.
Under the state’s current sports betting rules, Rhode Islanders are required to register in person at one of the two Twin River casino locations in order to set up a mobile wagering account.
A bill filed Wednesday by House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and House Finance Committee Chairman Marvin Abney would eliminate that requirement. A House spokesperson said Senate President Dominick Ruggerio will be introducing a companion version in his chamber.
The bill would also amend state law to say that the server which checks whether a player is physically located in Rhode Island to engage in sports betting will do so “at the time the player is wagering.” Under current law it must do so “when the player logs onto the system.”
Removing the in-person registration requirement would presumably lead significantly more Rhode Islanders to download and try the sports betting app, particularly at a time when many are limiting their social activities and as professional sports leagues prepare to resume.
“Especially during these times of social distancing, enabling people to register online for sports gaming provides an added convenience that will also enhance revenue for the people of our state,” Mattiello and Ruggerio said in a joint statement. “With many team sports ready to resume play shortly, this will provide a safe entertainment option for Rhode Islanders to participate in sports gaming from their homes.”
The legislative action comes as Republican activist Daniel Harrop pursues a legal challenge over the constitutionality of sports betting, arguing that it could only be authorized by voters under the state constitution. Last month a Superior Court judge ruled against Harrop, whose lawyers said he would appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court.
Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) is WPRI 12’s politics and business editor and a Target 12 investigative reporter. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook