Battle over Sports Betting Turns Ugly in Rhode Island

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Despite legalizing and rolling out sports betting in Rhode Island, things aren’t as peaceful and happy as initially portrayed. In fact, there’s been a massive split within the GOP over gambling and sports betting as a whole, which has caused a great deal of tension and political unrest within the state. This political split has led to some GOP leaders claiming that the adoption of sports betting was unlawful.

The Opposition to Sports Betting

On one side of the aisle, is the opinion that Rhode Island rushed to get sports betting legalized last year. And now that the state is pushing for a law to allow mobile betting, in addition to sports betting at the state’s two casinos, some state leaders are very frustrated and opposing the gambling expansion. Leading this sentiment is GOP Chairman Brandon Bell who believes that the General Assembly has violated the constitution by passing laws without voter approval:

“The General Assembly has been moving quickly to approve legislation which will allow an expansion of gambling in the form of online sports betting without voter approval as required by the Rhode Island State Constitution in Article 6, Section 22. This follows the unlawful institution of sports betting at the two state-operated casinos in Newport and Tiverton without voter approval. Simply, it was never on the ballot.”

The chairman is threatening a lawsuit against Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s administration to “protect the constitutional right of Rhode Islanders to approve or disapprove by referendum whether or not they want the new type of gambling in the form of sports betting in person and online in our state.”

He clarified, saying that when the state voted for casino gambling in 2012 and 2016, sports gambling was illegal and thus voters could not have approved the activity. Until just recently, Rhode Island Republicans appeared happy with the idea of legal sports betting, and showed some support for the new revenue stream that would have helped the state without raising taxes for residents and business owners.

Ruggerio Has Fired Back

Senate President Dominick Ruggerio isn’t taking these accusations sitting down. He has coming out firing shots back at Bell:

“I am surprised that the chairman of a party that claims to support lower taxes and greater individual liberties would challenge the sports wagering law. Sports gaming has been a very popular entertainment option that many Rhode Islanders, as well as visitors from out of state, have embraced.”

Ruggerio called attention to the areas that would benefit from an increase in revenue: education, human services, road and bridge repairs and the ability to offset the state’s reliance on taxes. He went on to say that he is suspicious of the timing of these objections, given the fact that it’s been almost a year since sports betting was enacted into law. He’s confident that the state will win in the event of a challenge.

In the meantime, the state is still pressing forward with legalizing mobile betting as the majority of the proponents feel that online betting will increase overall revenue.

Sports Betting in the United States

In May 2018 the Supreme Court overturned the federal PASPA, or the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992. PASPA effectively banned sports gambling outside of Nevada. When SCOTUS ruled PASPA unconstitutional, it left the power up to each individual state to decide if and how to legalize and regulate sports gambling.

Rhode Island rushed to become one of the first states to legalize this form of gambling. RI became one of seven states that currently have full-scale legal and operational sportsbooks. 25 additional states are working on new legislation that will allow them to legalize sports betting.

Rick Rockwell

As a longtime freelance writer, avid sports fan, former athlete, and experienced sports bettor, Rick Rockwell has risen up the ranks at to become the self-professed "King of the Blog" in his first year with the site. ...

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