Rhode Island is the smallest US state by size and one of the smallest by population. But when a May 2018 US Supreme Court ruling opened the door to states other than Nevada to offer sports betting, little Rhode Island was right there near the front of the line.
By then Rhode Island was already exploring new sports betting legislation. The day after the Supreme Court made its ruling, lawmakers had a hearing to discuss sports betting further. Soon a bill to legalize sports betting was included in the current budget proposal, and when the Legislature passed that budget, Gov. Gina Raimondo signed it into law.
Just over a month after the Supreme Court ruling, Rhode Island had legalized sports betting.
The law as passed permitted two casinos to open retail sportsbooks, with the Rhode Island Lottery in charge of oversight. One was the Twin River Casino Hotel in Lincoln. The other was the Twin River’s sister property, the Twin River Tiverton Casino Hotel, which was just about to open in September. Twin River took its first sports wager in late November 2018, and Tiverton followed suit after opening its sportsbook a week later.
There was no mobile option to start, although in early 2019 legislators passed a bill to allow it. Online sports betting finally launched in the state in September 2019 in time for the NFL season. At first bettors had to register online accounts in person at the state’s two sportsbooks. However in July 2020 new legislation removed that requirement.
What follows is an overview of sports betting in Rhode Island. Read on to learn about the current law and how it came to be, and to find out what those seeking to place sports wagers in the Ocean State can expect.
Legal gambling in Rhode Island dates back to 1934 when voters approved pari-mutuel betting on horse and greyhound races. Later a state lottery was launched in 1974, and during the 1980s “pull-tab” lottery tickets, bingo and other forms of charitable gaming were also made legal.
During the early 1990s off-track betting was made legal at the state’s two main racetracks. Then in 1992, those two tracks were authorized to offer slots-like video lottery terminals. However, voters in 1994 voted against a gambling expansion bill to introduce commercial casinos in the state.
Over subsequent years, the popular Foxwoods Resort Casino in neighboring Massachusetts consistently attracted Rhode Islanders’ business. Meanwhile in 2007 new ownership rebranded the Lincoln Park racetrack as the Twin River Casino.
Then in 2012 came another casino referendum, and this time voters favored adding casino gaming at Twin River, essentially making it into the state’s first full-fledged commercial casino. In 2016, voters again supported the construction of a new casino in Tiverton, also owned by Twin River Worldwide Holdings.
Also in 2016, the state’s attorney general released an opinion stating that daily fantasy sports was likely legal under state law. Thus DraftKings, FanDuel, and other DFS sites all serve players from RI.
Before Rhode Island’s two commercial casinos appeared, the Narragansett Indian Tribal Nation attempted to open a casino in Rhode Island.
In 1994, the state did enter into a compact with the Narragansetts to allow the tribe to build a casino in West Greenwich. Four years later the Bureau of Indian Affairs placed 31 acres of land in trust with the tribe in Charlestown, and the Narragansetts made known their intention to build a casino there. However the state appealed, and in 2009 the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of Rhode Island.
There have been subsequent efforts since to introduce tribal gaming in the state, but none have succeeded.
In early 2018, many states were considering sports betting legislation, Rhode Island among them. The states did so in anticipation of the US Supreme Court possibly ruling against the federal sports betting ban, PASPA, in the spring. In May 2018, that’s exactly what the court did.
A standalone sports betting bill was introduced by five senators in January 2018. The bill proposed to amend the “Video-Lottery Terminal” portion of the gambling law to allow sports betting at both the Twin River and Tiverton casinos. The Rhode Island Lottery would serve as the lone operator of the sportsbooks.
Soon Raimondo added the sports betting bill’s language to the state’s budget proposal. The Supreme Court’s ruling on PASPA came on May 14, and on May 15 lawmakers conducted a couple of hearings to discuss what shape sports betting would take in the state. The matter of so-called integrity fees for professional leagues was settled early by lawmakers — they unambiguously rejected them.
Lawmakers passed the new state budget, and Raimondo signed it into law on June 22, thereby officially legalizing sports betting in the state.
Meanwhile the UK-based gambling provider International Game Technology was involved from the outset as well. IGT has offices in Providence, and already had a long relationship with the Rhode Island Lottery as a technology provider since 2003.
A total of 18 countries expressed interest in being a vendor for Rhode Island sports betting. But with such an inside track, IGT was the only operator actually to submit a bid to provide platforms once sportsbooks were up and running. In August the state signed a five-year contract where an IGT sports betting platform would be powered by William Hill.
With the Rhode Island Lottery overseeing sports betting in the state, the casinos would in fact earn relatively little tax revenue. However, the host casinos were each awarded $100,000 compensation for hosting sports betting.
Here is how the new law divided sports betting tax revenue:
Initial expectations were for sports betting to launch by October, but the planning process extended into November.
The Twin River Casino sportsbook in Lincoln opened on Nov. 19, 2018. On Dec. 3, the Tiverton Casino Hotel sportsbook in Tiverton launched as well, making legal betting available at these sister retail properties. Rhode Island had officially become the eighth state to accept legal sports wagers. These remain the only two brick-and-mortar places for bets.
Starting in 2019, lawmakers turned their attention to legalizing online sports betting. By March 2019 the law was amended again to allow it, although it would take several months to hammer out the details in order to go live. Finally the Rhode Island Lottery launched its new Sportsbook Rhode Island online sportsbook on Sept. 4, 2019, just in time for the NFL season.
During those spring and summer months and into the fall, Rhode Islanders wondered if perhaps sports betting might be in danger. That’s because the state’s Republican Party filed a lawsuit challenging the legality of sports betting in the state. The Republicans contended the state’s constitution required voters to approve any gambling expansion via a referendum, and the state had not obtained that approval before legalizing sports betting.
That fight lasted well into the next year. Finally in June 2020, the Rhode Island Superior Court ruled sports betting to be constitutional and denied an injunction to stop it. Litigants immediately appealed the ruling, of course, but sports betting nonetheless continued.
Revenue from sports betting in Rhode Island did not meet early projections, and mobile sports betting, in particular, was hampered considerably by an in-person registration requirement. In July 2020, lawmakers passed bills lifting that requirement, and Raimondo signed that legislation into law on July 23, 2020.
Rhode Island has one online sportsbook, Sportsbook Rhode Island. The online site is hosted by both the Twin River and Tiverton retail casinos.
The site is accessible either via a web-based browser or sportsbook app. The app is available for iOS/Apple and Android devices.
It is not necessary to be a Rhode Island resident to access the online sportsbook or to register an account. However anyone wishing to place a real-money sports wager must be physically located within Rhode Island to do so. Those using the web-browser must use a geolocation plug-in, while that process is done automatically for app users.
Rhode Island initially required those signing up for accounts to complete their registration by visiting either the Twin River or Tiverton sportsbooks. Such an in-person visit for identification purposes was required as well before users could deposit funds into their online sportsbook accounts. However, the in-person registration requirement was removed in July 2020.
Rhode Island sportsbooks offer a variety of sports on which to wager, including:
Rhode Island sportsbooks offer the usual variety of wagering options to sports bettors. These include:
There are no major league teams in the small state. That said, with Boston and Foxborough less than an hour drive away, Rhode Island is home to many fans of franchises from those two Massachusetts cities:
Rhode Island is home to several colleges and universities. The Providence College Friars and University of Rhode Island Rams are among the state’s schools with teams competing in Division I athletics.
However, Rhode Island’s sports betting law expressly forbids any wagering on Rhode Island collegiate teams. Betting on college teams from other states is fine, but the sportsbooks cannot accept wagers on any contests involving Rhode Island schools.
Once upon a time, both horse racing and greyhound racing were quite popular in Rhode Island. In fact, the state was once home to one of the largest and most profitable race tracks in the country. Narragansett Park opened in 1934 in Pawtucket and thrived for decades before finally closing in 1978.
Lincoln Downs opened in 1947 and though smaller was also quite popular. Eventually Lincoln Downs changed its name a couple of times and switched from horse racing to dog racing in 1977. The site became Twin River Casino in 2007, and in August 2009 ran its final greyhound races before closing the track entirely. In 2010, legislation passed to remove the greyhound racing requirement from casinos’ operation, effectively ending live racing in the state.
Meanwhile off-track betting was made legal in Rhode Island in the early 1990s, and both the Twin River and Tiverton casinos offer in-person racebooks. Both offer betting on simulcasted horse races and greyhound races taking place around the country.
Online OTB operators like TVG, TwinSpires and BetAmerica are also available to those in Rhode Island wishing to bet on thoroughbred and quarter horse races, harness races and greyhound races.
The legal gambling age in Rhode Island is 18 years old.
Those wishing to deposit funds into their Sportsbook Rhode Island accounts can only do so by transferring funds from a bank account. First they must enroll in the Global Payments VIP Preferred E-Check service. After enrolling and making a first deposit, there is no need to enroll again.
Enrolling in the e-check service requires supplying some personal information, including:
Once users supply the needed information, they can submit their request and, if approved, funds will become immediately available.
The minimum deposit is $20, and there is a $10,000 maximum daily deposit. However, the online sportsbook assigns a seven-day revolving deposit limit derived from the user’s bank account standing and previous deposit history. As of today, Rhode Island does not allow users to deposit funds when located outside of the state.
The only withdrawal option is also an electronic bank transfer. Users must withdraw funds back into the same bank account from which they deposited.
The minimum withdrawal amount is $20, while there is no maximum (i.e., users can withdraw their entire balance). Withdrawals of $10,000 or more might require five-day advance notice. Whereas deposits must be made when physically located in Rhode Island, users can withdraw funds when outside the state.
The Rhode Island Lottery regulates and oversees sports betting in the state.