Mobile sports betting proposed in Rhode Island

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) — Brandon Swenson and Earl Nicholson spent plenty of time watching sports at Snookers in Providence. They said they’re interested in betting on games too, but the idea of driving to Twin River just to place a wager isn’t particularly appealing.

“No, [it’s] not my thing, no,” Nicholson said. 

“Probably not, no. I would rather do it on my phone honestly,” Swenson said.

That’s why Senate President Ruggerio introduced a bill in committee Wednesday night to bring sports betting right to people’s smartphones.

“They’ve been experiencing some substantial lines up at Twin River. We’re hoping to ease those lines and make it convenient for those people who choose to use sports gaming,” Ruggerio told ABC6.

Under the proposal, people would place bets using an app on their computer or mobile device from anywhere in Rhode Island. That bet would be received at Twin River just like an in-person wager.

However, you would have to physically go to Twin River initially to sign up. That catch is raising some concerns.

“People on the fringes, the outer edges of Rhode Island, they want to play too, and they may not be willing to make that drive,” said. Sen. Thomas Paolino, (R) North Smithfield.

“If you make somebody go to a physical location to sign up for an online product, they’re simply not going to do it,” said Sarah Koch, Government Affairs Director for DraftKings.

State officials argue the in-person sign-up is important for age verification and preventing money laundering.

“I don’t think it’s a big ask, only because we’re a small state. That’ll be the one time that they go up there and visit that particular facility and then they can bet at their leisure by phone,” Ruggerio said.

The hope is to have mobile betting up and running sometime later this year.

“Yeah, I would do it all the time, probably, if it’s easy access and stuff, yeah,” said Nicholson.

“Having an app to do it right away would be so much easier for me, and I would probably, definitely do it a lot more,” said Swenson.

Rhode Island actually lost a little over a $1 million from Super Bowl betting because of how well the Patriots did Sunday. But President Ruggerio said he expects the state will make that money back during March Madness.

Mobile gaming won’t be ready by then, but officials do expect to have automated sports betting kiosks installed at Twin River in time for the NCAA tournament.

© WLNE-TV / ABC6 2019