LINCOLN, R.I. — A casino in Rhode Island became the first in New England to accept bets on professional sports Monday.
The state’s legislative leaders, Democratic Senate President Dominick Ruggerio and Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, placed the first bets at Twin River Casino’s Lincoln location with John Taylor, chairman of Twin River Worldwide Holdings. Rhode Island is the first New England state to legalize sports betting since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal law this year that made most sports gambling illegal.
About 50 people lined up during the ceremony to place bets of their own. Many were betting on Monday night football and on the Boston Celtics. Zack Natola, 30, of Watertown, Massachusetts, said he frequently travels to Las Vegas and appreciates having a place for sports betting nearby.
“I will be a regular,” he said. “I watch sports all the time. This just adds a little more fun to it.”
Twin River expects to begin sports betting at its Tiverton casino in December. Bets must be placed in person. Rhode Island will get 51 percent of the revenue from sports betting. The vendor will get 32 percent and the casino will get 17 percent.
Twin River’s two casinos are the only places where bets will be accepted, for now. The state plans to explore ways to expand sports betting in the future. That could entail allowing bets at locations of existing lottery agents, such as places with Keno machines, as well as at sports bars, according to the state Department of Revenue.
In neighboring Connecticut, a planned special legislative session to take up legalized sports betting was put on hold in August due to opposition from lawmakers.
Unlike many other states, Connecticut needs to be careful not to legalize something that could risk an existing revenue-sharing agreement it has with the tribes who own two southeastern Connecticut casinos. Both currently have exclusive rights to certain forms of gambling under that arrangement.
Connecticut’s Democratic Gov.-elect Ned Lamont supports legalizing sports betting.
In Massachusetts, lawmakers have yet to open the door to sports betting, although that could change in the coming year. Democratic House Speaker Robert DeLeo has indicated that lawmakers will “listen to all sides pro and con” before coming up with a proposal to legalize sports betting in the new legislative session, which begins in January.
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission estimates sports betting could bring in tens of millions of dollars in tax revenues annually. Massachusetts is also home to DraftKings, the Boston-based company pushing to expand its daily fantasy sports offering to include sports betting.
Both Ruggerio and Mattiello spoke at Twin River about the importance of sports betting as a revenue generator for Rhode Island. Ruggerio has been advocating for legalized sports betting in Rhode Island for decades. He wants to look into mobile wagering for sports betting too.
State officials had hoped to launch sports betting on Oct. 1, but they said negotiations with the vendor who is managing sports betting services took longer than expected. The state budget included $23.5 million in revenue from sports betting through June 30, assuming an Oct. 1 start. Analysts recently cut that total by $12 million because of the delay.
Twin River spokeswoman Patti Doyle said Monday she did not currently have projections for how much money people will bet on sports immediately after the launch.
A sports betting lounge with dozens of television screens is expected to open at the Lincoln casino in December. The casino is currently using part of its area for simulcast betting on horse and dog races for sports betting. Bets will be accepted on professional and college games, but not on teams from Rhode Island colleges.
Alex Greenwood, 22, of Cranston, was among the first in line to place a bet Monday.
“I’m happy I can come here legally and get the money in my hand, instead of online,” he said.
Kenneth LaFazia, 87, lives near the casino. He said he bets on sports with neighborhood bookies.
“Finally,” he said as the betting began. “I’m ready!”
Any winnings from the bets placed by Ruggerio, Mattiello and Taylor will be donated to charity, with Twin River guaranteeing at least a $500 donation regardless of the outcome, Doyle said.
Ruggerio chose the Rhode Island Community Food Bank. He bet on the Houston Texans over the Tennessee Titans Monday. Mattiello, who represents a district in Cranston, chose the Cranston Animal Shelter. Taylor picked the American Red Cross of Rhode Island. Both Mattiello and Taylor wagered on the Boston Celtics over the New Orleans Pelicans Monday.
Associated Press writers Susan Haigh in Hartford and Steve LeBlanc in Boston contributed to this report.