Super Bowl boosts R.I. coffers

Rhode Islanders can thank the New England Patriots for more than just another NFL championship.

While the long-term success of legalized sports betting in Rhode Island remains uncertain, heavy betting at the state’s two gaming facilities on the Feb. 3 Super Bowl will boost state budget coffers.

The state on Feb. 5 said $6.5 million was wagered in Rhode Island on bets related to the Super Bowl.

That dwarfs the $1.03 million in bets placed by the end of December covering the first five weeks of legalized sports betting in the state, according to R.I. Department of Revenue. The state receives 51 percent of the revenue from sports betting. DOR has not reported the state’s take from Super Bowl betting. But the roughly $500,000 from pre-January betting is less than one-third the monthly average needed to meet the state’s fiscal 2019 sports-betting projection of $11.5 million.

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Major sports events such as the Super Bowl, which won’t always include the hometown team, and the upcoming NCAA March Madness collegiate basketball tournament are expected by state officials to boost local betting and help make up for slower months.

DOR spokesman Paul E. Grimaldi said an additional five tellers were hired before the Super Bowl, for a total of 14.

“The Super Bowl proved to be great advertising for this new gaming amenity,” Grimaldi said in a news release. “We have a lot of happy customers who we expect will be recirculating their winnings throughout the Rhode Island economy.” Sports-book operator William Hill paid out $2.35 million on the wagers.

But Grimaldi said betting results prior to the Super Bowl were modest and that it is too early to draw any long-term conclusions.

“We’ll know better in May and … next November” the trends driving local sports betting, he said.

He acknowledged, however, that “it’s critical [for the state] to come close” to its budget projections.

That’s because Gov. Gina M. Raimondo’s proposed fiscal 2020 budget expects even more revenue to pour in from sports betting. The January draft counts on $30 million coming to the state from local sports wagers.

Projections do not exist for specific months or for beyond fiscal 2020. At the end of each month DOR will release the revenue data for the prior month. January figures are expected Feb. 28.

Grimaldi said there is less budget pressure on sports betting than some other projected revenue sources because other lottery products – Powerball and scratch-off tickets, for example – are “doing well.”

Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio, D-Providence, acknowledged mild concern about the pre-Super Bowl returns but remains confident.

“Have we been making money on it? Not yet, but overall that will happen,” he said of the state’s monthly revenue.

Ruggerio has proposed a bill allowing individuals to bet online rather than be present at either in-state gambling hall. The measure, he said, will “alleviate a lot of the crowds” and could lead to more ­betting.

Emily Gowdey-Backus is a staff writer for PBN. You can follow her on Twitter @FlashGowdey or contact her via email, Gowdey-backus@PBN.com.