A casino in Rhode Island is becoming the first in New England to accept bets on professional sports.
Sports betting began at Twin River Casino's Lincoln location late Monday afternoon. 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.
The state's legislative leaders, Democratic Senate President Dominick Ruggerio and Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, placed ceremonial first bets with John Taylor, chairman of Twin River Worldwide Holdings.
About 50 people lined up during the ceremony to wager too. Many were betting on Monday night football and on the Boston Celtics.
Zack Natola of Watertown, Massachusetts, said he plans to be a regular. He said he frequently travels to Las Vegas and appreciates having a place for sports betting nearby.
Twin River expects to begin sports betting at its Tiverton casino in December. Bets must be placed in person. Twin River's two casinos are the only places where bets will be accepted, for now.
Rhode Island 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. 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.
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.
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.
Any winnings from the ceremonial first bets 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. Mattiello, who represents a district in Cranston, chose the Cranston Animal Shelter. Taylor picked the American Red Cross of Rhode Island.