Lincoln, R.I. — Tony Clune had been waiting for this moment since the waning days of Ronald Reagan’s presidency.
A regular visitor to Twin River Casino, where he’d always come to “play the horses,” Clune, of Leominster, Mass., legally bet on college football for the first time Monday, risking $200 on the outcome of Friday’s Pac-12 title game, which pits the Utah Utes against the Washington Huskies.
“I’m a happy camper,” Clune said, waving his ticket.
Twin River executives and Rhode Island state lawmakers shared the sentiment, basking in the launch of legal sports betting in New England, an endeavor that’s expected to generate $11.5 million for the state by June 30, the end of the fiscal year. In ceremonial “first bets,” Nicholas Mattiello, the speaker of the Rhode Island House, and John Taylor Jr., executive chairman of the casino’s owner, Twin River Holdings Inc., bet on Monday night’s Boston Celtics game while Dominick Ruggerio, the Rhode Island Senate president, picked Houston to win the Monday Night Football game.
Any winnings from their bets were to go to charity.
Monday’s event, marking the start of the first phase of Twin River’s two-part rollout of sports betting, took place in the casino’s third-floor race book, where betting on simulcasts of horse and greyhound racing has been offered for years. Sports betting terminals have been added to the space as well as to a first-floor grandstand area. Wall-mounted and countertop TV monitors are situated throughout the area.
For now, wagering is available on NBA, NFL, NHL and Major League Baseball games as well as NCAA sports, excluding Rhode Island teams. Eventually, Twin River could take bets made via hand-held devices.
Taylor, the Twin River chief executive, said the casino’s initial sports book configuration was modeled after those in place in Las Vegas casinos. The second phase of Twin River’s sports-betting rollout, he said, will feature “a more social environment” in which bettors can relax on a couch, have a beer and lounge.”
“It’s where the market is evolving,” he said of the sports-betting area, which will open next month on the casino’s second floor.
Now under construction, the 3,600-square-foot site will include about 100 TV screens of varying sizes, a bar and other food-and-beverage service. Basically, it’s been designed to recreate the atmosphere of a tailgate party “without anyone having to go outside,” Craig Sculos, Twin River’s vice president and general manager, said.
Taylor said Twin River invested $1.5 million in the new sports-betting area and an additional $100,000 in renovating the existing race book.
“We’re excited to be the first in New England,” he said. “Anytime you can establish a relationship with customers first, ahead of your competition, it’s an advantage. It differentiates us from what other casinos offer.”
Connecticut’s legislature is expected to consider legalizing sports betting next year at Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun as well as at other locations.
Having waited 30 years to bet legally on sports, it’s all music to Tony Clune’s ears.
“I used to go to Foxwoods about once a month, but this is closer,” he said of Twin River. “Now, I’ll be here more often. And when they put it (sports betting) in at Plainfield (a Plainville, Mass., slots parlor), that’ll be my home.
“Right now, this is my home.”