Amid Chaos in Puerto Rico, Gov. Rossello Signs Bill Legalizing Sports Betting

Posted on: July 29, 2019, 07:13h. 

Last updated on: July 29, 2019, 08:32h.

Puerto Rico became the latest in the United States to legalize sports betting as outgoing Gov. Ricardo Rosselló signed a bill Monday allowing it on the Caribbean island, an American commonwealth.

Before being forced to resign, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló led the effort to legalize sports betting in the commonwealth of the US. He signed the bill into law Monday, just days before he will leave office in wake of a text messaging scandal that’s rocked the Caribbean island. (Image: Getty Images)

The bill signed by Rosselló also permits fantasy sports and betting on esports. The new law allows sportsbooks to set up on the island’s casinos, racetracks and off-track betting parlors, as well as other venues.

The signing comes nearly four months after Rosselló unveiled his proposal for legalization, saying it would help rebuild the island that was devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017. Island officials say they will be the first in the Caribbean to allow sports betting.

We continue to work for tourism, which will help us improve economic development for the island,” tweeted Rep. Nestor Alonso (New Progressive Party), who served as the bill’s primary sponsor in the legislature, after Rosselló’s signing Monday.

To help spur tourism, Puerto Rico will offer some of the lowest taxes on sports betting in the US. The tax rate will be 7 percent on gross gaming revenue for retail sportsbooks. Online books will get taxed at 12 percent. A study published in March by Spectrum Gaming Group estimates sports betting in Puerto Rico could generate up to $62 million in annual gross revenues.

The new law calls for the creation of a gaming commission, modeled after similar bodies in US states. The seven-member panel, which will include both public officials and citizens, will regulate both sports betting and horse racing.

Rosselló Resigning

While Rosselló helped shepherd the bill through the legislature, he will not be in a position to shape Puerto Rico’s gaming policy moving forward, and it remains unclear exactly who will serve in that role.

The signing serves as one of the final acts for Rosselló as Puerto Rico’s governor. Last week, he announced his resignation, effective on Aug. 2, after text messages between him and other political leaders were leaked. The texts were filled with offensive language and made fun of Maria survivors.

The revelation set off scores of protests on the island, demanding his resignation. Other officials, including Secretary of State Luis Rivera Marín, also resigned in wake of the texting controversy. Due to Puerto Rico’s succession laws, Marín would have replaced Rosselló. Now it appears Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez is next in line.

However, she doesn’t want the job.

“I repeat, I have no interest in taking up the post of Governor,” she tweeted on Sunday afternoon. “It’s a constitutional opinion. I hope that the Governor will identify and submit a candidate for the post of Secretary of State by 2 August and I have expressed this to him.”

Focus on Esports

One of the more unique aspects of Puerto Rico’s sports betting law is that it includes betting on esports, or video game competitions. It’s a highly growing market as interest builds in watching gamers play Fortnite, Madden NFL, and Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six.

Puerto Rico officials said the esports audience exceeds 400 million worldwide, and by 2023, the economic impact of the emerging sport will top $3 billion.

Another unique aspect of the law is it also allows former cockfighting arenas to get sports betting licenses. When Congress passed the federal Farm Bill in December, it included a provision formally banning the controversial game across the country. Many states had already enacted laws banning the violent sport.

However, it was wildly popular in Puerto Rico. According to a Voice of America article, cockfighting employed 27,000 people and pumped $18 million into the island’s economy.

Under the new law, any cockfighting arena that operated legally in Puerto Rico and closed because of the federal law will receive their sports betting license for free for a 10-year period.