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Metro, News

Rhode Island politicians discuss sports betting

Casinos aim to decrease lines, wait times in new R.I. sports betting facilities approved last June

Senior Staff Writer
Monday, January 28, 2019

Following Rhode Island’s legalization of sports betting last June, state politicians joined casino representatives Monday to discuss updates and challenges posed by the implementation of  sports betting and assess the financial state of the casinos.

New sports betting facilities were added to the state’s two major casinos — the Twin River and Tiverton Casino Hotel — in November and December of last year, The Herald previously reported. Rhode Island is the only state in New England to offer sports betting.

The attendees at the meeting were primarily concerned with shortening wait times for placing bets. These waits can be “up to an hour” at Tiverton during conference games, which minimizes the casino’s opportunity to increase their betting revenue, said Joe Moore, Tiverton Casino Hotel General Manager. Both casinos hope to decrease the wait times by hiring more staff and adding additional tills and kiosks, he added. The casinos also aim to launch a mobile on-site app by end of June. In conjunction with more kiosks, the app will allow people to place bets faster without waiting in long lines. The casino representatives also see potential for these tactics to mitigate large crowds during upcoming popular events like the Super Bowl and March Madness.

While the lines cause logistical problems, they demonstrate “pent-up demand” for sports betting, said Paul Grimaldi, public information officer for the Department of Revenue. “The easier we make it, the more likely it will generate more income,” he added.

From attendees at the meeting, there was a sense of general optimism and support for sports betting and its impact on the state as a whole and the cities surrounding the casinos. “I don’t think traffic has increased, I haven’t heard of any problems from my constituents or anybody else in the area,” Sen. Thomas J. Paolino , D-Lincoln, North Providence, North Smithfield, said. “It seems to be a win-win right now for everybody.”

But it is difficult to determine how much R. I. is currently profiting from sports betting, Grimaldi said. As of last December, sports betting book revenue was $957,913, according to the Rhode Island lottery’s fiscal year 2019 report. Even so, the long-term impact of sports betting in the state is still unknown.

  “If (citizens)take a dollar that they were going to spend on the movies, or out to dinner somewhere, and they come here and bet on sports, is the state of Rhode Island necessarily better off?” Grimaldi added. It will likely be a year before “we see if all those phases work out.”

Nationally, the legalization of sports betting incites fears of increased cases of gambling addiction, according to US News. However, Rhode Island casinos are attempting to tackle this health concern. “Twin River has a long established partnership with a mental health consortium here in Rhode Island,” Grimaldi said. He added that the casino currently pays $125,000 a year for counselors and counseling sessions for people with gambling problems. “Like everything else we’ll keep an eye on things and if we think we need to devote more resources to it we will,” Grimaldi said.

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