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Online Legal Sports Betting Goes Live in Rhode Island – at Least This Week

The Rhode Island lottery took the first online sports wager Wednesday, the day before ahead the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers opened the 2019 NFL season Thursday, but whether bettors will be able to place wagers on Week 2 NFL action remains to be seen.

A lawsuit filed by Daniel Harrop, a former Providence Republican mayoral candidate, could potentially stop all sports betting in Rhode Island. The litigation interprets the state constitution to read that mobile RI sports betting – and retail sports betting, as well – is unconstitutional without a voter referendum.

District Court Associate Justice Brian Stern declined to rule on the lawsuit last Wednesday, stating that he required further deliberation and would issue his verdict during a second hearing scheduled for Sept. 11.

Lottery officials, who oversee Rhode Island sports betting, as well as licensed operator Twin River Casino and partners IGT and William Hill. while hoping the legal hurdle would be cleared last Wednesday, didn’t appear too concerned by the delayed ruling and began accepting online wagers later that same afternoon.

To Bet… Or Not To Bet

Nonetheless, the judge’s pending decision has the potential to bring online and retail sports gambling to a halt in the Ocean state.

The judge could choose to dismiss the case at next week’s hearing, which would be a relief to state legislators and sports bettors alike. However, if the judge rejects the lottery’s motion to dismiss, the civil suit would be allowed to proceed and the future of the state’s sports betting industry would remain under a cloud of uncertainty for an indefinite period of time.

Should the judge side with the lottery, as defendant, sports betting would continue as per current operations. A ruling for the plaintiff, however, would effectively outlaw sports betting in the Ocean state.

In that scenario, the lottery could ask for a stay from the court, which would allow sportsbooks to continue operating while it appeals to a higher court. That outcome would also leave the Ocean state’s sports gambling industry in a legal limbo for the unforeseen future.

Alternatively, lottery officials could opt to accept the ruling, close the sportsbooks and bring a ballot measure before voters in the November 2020 election.

While possible, this outcome seems unlikely. Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo, along with majorities in the Democratic-controlled House and Senate, approved legal sports betting as part of the state’s 2018 overall budget with full confidence that it was legal under the state’s constitution.

After retail sports betting fell short of projected revenue, lawmakers passed an online sports betting bill this spring under the same premise.

While the Rhode Island constitution does forbid gambling, it gives the state lottery broad leeway to offer a variety of games. Since legal sports betting was kept under the lottery’s umbrella, the state’s legal counsel assured legislators that a constitutional amendment was unnecessary.

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