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Rhode Island Entangled in Sports Betting Lawsuit

Rhode Island took its first online sports wager September 4, just in time for the 2019 NFL opening kickoff despite a lawsuit, scheduled to be heard in district court the same day, seeking to declare sports wagering unconstitutional due to the lack of a voter referendum.

The Rhode Island Lottery is the regulating agency for the state’s two operators, Twin River Casino in Lincoln and Twin River Casino Tiverton, as well as their mobile sports betting app, in partnership with William Hill and International Game Technology (IGT). The Lincoln-based casino also maintains a brick-and-mortar sportsbook.

Associate Justice Brian Stern said he needed more time to deliberate and rescheduled the hearing for Sept. 16. On that date, Stern dismissed the case and ruled that the plaintiff, Dr. Daniel Harrop, a psychiatrist and former Providence Republican mayoral candidate, had not suffered an injury from the legalization of sports betting and lacked the proper standing to issue a challenge.

Stern’s ruling failed to address the constitutionality of legislators legalizing sports betting without a voter referendum, however. That left the door open for Harrop to file an amendment, in which he explained that because he placed a bet on the New England Patriots to win last December, and the team lost, causing him to lose his bet, he was thereby injured.

Legal Sports Betting Could Be Big Money

Rhode Island budgeted $22.7 million in revenue from sports betting in 2020, with nearly $17.3 million of that sum estimated to come from its mobile app.

The Ocean State’s constitution requires gaming expansions to be approved by a statewide vote, as well as local votes in affected municipalities. Tiverton and Lincoln, where the two casinos are located, are the only Rhode Island residents who saw ballot measures concerning legal sports wagering.

Because Lincoln’s retail sportsbook is located in a city that voted to legalize sports betting, state officials maintain that this is enough for constitutional requirements authorizing brick-and-mortar sportsbooks to be met.

Since mobile sports bettors have to open accounts in person at one of the two casinos located in voter-approved cities, and because the servers that run the online sportsbooks are located at the casinos in voter-approved cities, constitutional requirements for mobile sports betting have been met.

The next hearing was scheduled for Sept. 23.

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