Excitement over the Super Bowl continues to mount here in New England, as the Patriots are set to battle the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday night.
While playing in the Super Bowl is nothing new for the Pats, the ability for fans to place a legal wager on the game here in the region is new.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that a federal ban on sports betting was unconstitutional.
And in New England — so far — sports betting is legal at a pair of casinos in Rhode Island: Twin River, in Lincoln; and Tiverton, just over the Massachusetts state line from Fall River.
Other states, including Massachusetts, are now contemplating getting into the sports betting game, but Rhode Island got a jump start on its neighbors, opening the sports book in late November.
At Twin River on a recent day, a steady stream of people, mostly middle-age to older men, queued up for their turn at one of the four windows where bets on the Super Bowl and many other sporting events were being accepted.
“This becomes the world’s biggest indoor tailgate party. And it’s filled with people who love sports, and that’s exactly what we wanted the space to do,” said Craig Sculos, vice president and general manager of Twin River, as he showed off the 3,600-square-foot area created last year for gamblers to try their luck picking winners.
“As you first enter into the sports book what I think is most captivating right away are the number of televisions,” Sculos said. “There are televisions on virtually every square inch of the wall that we could find space. We are constantly showing as many sports as possible with all of the proper sports packages.”
While waiting to get to the window, bettors can check the latest odds before laying their money down.
“Every wager here is assigned a number,” Sculos said. “So a guest simply can stand, [and] have their wager sort of formulated as they get to the ticket writer. They would simply say, ‘bet 525, $100 on the spread,’ and the ticket writer punches that into the system, and like magic the ticket appears. Then the fun starts.”
Even though the wagers are 100 percent legal, none of the people placing bets were willing to have their transaction recorded for this story. Casino policy forbids reporters from interviewing guests on the Twin River property.
And while some will win, and some will lose, the state of Rhode Island is sharing in the take. Revenues from the combined sports books in Lincoln and Tiverton netted over $1 million in just a little over a month after opening, with the state’s take being roughly $500,000.
Rhode Island Senate President Dominick Ruggerio says legalized sports betting is good for the state.
“Obviously we’re looking to capture that money, that illegal money, that might be going offshore, might be going to someone’s pocket locally,” he said. “And obviously we’ve had a number of needs — roads, bridges, education — that we can use the money for. So I think it’s a good opportunity for the state to generate some revenue.”
And Rhode Island may not stop at sports books at the casinos. Ruggerio supports a bill that would allow the creation of a smartphone app that would allow fans to place bets in the palms of their hands.
“I think that would be a convenience for the gaming public, where they won’t have to go up there [and] stand in line for an extended period of time,” he said. “They could phone it in from their couch if they are in Cranston, Rhode Island, or wherever, but it has to be within the locale of Rhode Island.”
Providence Journal sportswriter Kevin McNamara has been watching the rollout of sports betting in Rhode Island, and says while it’s gotten off to a solid start, the initial numbers aren’t as strong as originally projected.
But with the Patriots in the big game, business is brisk.
“The Super Bowl is obviously the most bet event in sports,” McNamara said. “Either it’s an office pool or if it’s with a bookie or if it’s now you can do it legally at Twin River. … And it can be much more creative with prop bets and everything else that I’m sure the state is offering.”
Twin Rivers GM Sculos realizes that some of his guests may be torn.
“When the Patriots are in, this is no longer a sporting event; it’s a cultural event,” Sculos said. “What’s I think most captivating to us is the game between my heart as a Patriots fan and my wallet. I want to make money and you can see that going back and forth I think there are people standing in line today in turmoil. ‘Do I bet on the team I love, or do I try to bet against them and make some money?’ But it’s been a very strong showing for the Patriots so far.”
And many of those bettors hope to be standing in the line again on Monday, to collect their winnings.