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R.I. casino to start taking sports bets Monday

Rhode Island is about to become the eighth state — and the first in New England — to harbor legal sports betting, while Connecticut officials say they likely will take up the issue in the next legislative session.

Twin River Casino, the Lincoln, R.I., facility located north of Providence and about an hour from Foxwoods Resort Casino, announced this week that it will launch sports betting at 3 p.m. Monday with a ceremonial opening bet kicking off the new “product.” Nicholas Mattiello, speaker of the Rhode Island House; Dominic Ruggerio, the Senate president; and John Taylor Jr., executive chairman of Twin River Holdings Inc., will place the first bets.

Twin River’s new Tiverton casino in eastern Rhode Island is expected to introduce sports betting in a week or so.

It remained unclear Friday if and when Connecticut will authorize Foxwoods, Mohegan Sun and perhaps other locations in the state to take a similar step.

State Rep. Joe Verrengia, the West Hartford Democrat who co-chairs the Connecticut legislature’s Public Safety and Security Committee, which oversees gaming, said in a phone interview that he believes sports betting in Connecticut will be addressed next year as part of a comprehensive approach to gaming policy.

“As much as I would have liked to have sports betting legalized at this point, I think it’s fair to say there’s not going to be a special (legislative) session,” Verrengia said. “The best approach going forward is to work with the new governor and the various stakeholders to come up with a comprehensive plan for gaming that’s not just about sports betting.”

The legislature’s next regular session convenes Jan. 9, the day of Gov.-elect Ned Lamont’s swearing in as governor.

Legal wagering on sports has been on the table in a number of states since May, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal ban on the right of most states to enact sports-betting legislation. In Connecticut, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy responded immediately, saying he was prepared to call the legislature into special session.

The issue was complicated, however, by the casino-owning Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes’ claim that their gaming agreements with the state grant them the exclusive right to provide sports betting in Connecticut. State Attorney General George Jepsen differed with the tribes’ position.

Malloy negotiated an agreement with the tribes but failed to win lawmakers’ support for the convening of a special legislative session prior to this month’s elections.

“Without getting into the details of the agreement, what was worked out between the governor and the tribes would have been the worst (sports-betting) bill in the country,” Verrengia said. “Betting on mobile platforms is the most lucrative part of the deal and that’s where it fell short.”

The goal, Verrengia said, is to draft legislation that covers all aspects of the state’s gaming landscape, including the legalization of online and sports betting, casino expansion and perhaps the creation of a gaming commission along the lines of the one in place in Massachusetts. In Connecticut, a division of the Department of Consumer Protection oversees gaming.

“I realize that as each day passes, we’re leaving money on the table,” he said, referring to the delay in legalizing sports betting. “But it’s more important that we get it right. If it takes more time, so be it.”

Rhode Island lawmakers, expecting sports betting to be in place by Oct. 1, had anticipated it would generate $23.5 million for the state in the current fiscal year, an estimate they’ve lowered to $11.5 million. The state will get 51 percent of the sports-betting revenue that Twin River generates.

Since May, legal wagering on single-game sports, previously limited to Nevada, has been introduced in Delaware, New Jersey, New Mexico, Mississippi, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.


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