Case Challenging Rhode Island Sports Betting Constitutionality Dismissed

Posted on: September 10, 2019, 07:34h. 

Last updated on: September 10, 2019, 12:24h.

A judge in Providence, Rhode Island Monday dismissed a lawsuit that sought to have sports betting declared unconstitutional because the prominent Republican who brought the suit had not been personally harmed.

Rhode Island sports betting
Because Republican activist Dr. Daniel Harrop (pictured) had not suffered personal injury from sports betting, his case was deemed to lack standing by the judge. (Image: Michael Salerno/PNB)

Dr. Daniel Harrop, a former Republican Providence mayoral candidate, argued that the Democratic-controlled legislature had erred when it legalized sports betting last year because the issue should have gone to a public referendum.

Rhode Island’s constitution requires all new gambling expansion to be approved by voters statewide and in the municipality where it is to be conducted.

But Governor Gina Raimondo’s administration argued that sports betting was by default approved by Rhode Island voters when they authorized full-scale casino gaming in Lincoln and Tiverton in 2012 and 2016, respectively.

Mobile App Goes Live

The administration had hoped to receive a favorable judgment last week on September 4, when the state’s only casino operator, Twin River Holdings, launched its mobile sports betting app in partnership with IGT, just in time for the NFL season.

The judge needed more time to consider, but the app went ahead anyway.

Lottery spokesman Paul Grimaldi on Monday said that since its launch last Wednesday, 6,307 people had created accounts, which must be activated in person at the Twin River Lincoln, and placed 12,376 bets worth $410,000.

The administration argues that the app is constitutional because its servers are based within the casinos themselves, which means, theoretically, the transactions are taking place on the premises.

‘We’ll be Back’

But Harrop’s lawsuit argued that sports betting was a “different type” of gambling that does not fall under the umbrella of casino gaming.

“The outcome is not determined by machines or cards or any device inside the casino. Instead, it is the performance and skill of external players and teams outside the casino engaging in sporting events,” the lawsuit claimed.

Judge Brian Stern essentially tossed the case on a technicality, a question of standing. Stern noted that the court must avoid the temptation to “distort the role of the judiciary and its relationship to the executive and legislature and revert [to] government by injunction.”

The implicit rationale behind this rule has its roots in separation of powers,” the judge added. “If a citizen wishes to challenge the action of another branch of government, that person should have an actual stake in the controversy.”

This leaves the door open for other plaintiffs – such as gamblers who have lost money, Stern suggested – to sue in the future, a fact that seemed to please the Harrop camp no end.

“We’ll be back,” Harrop’s lawyer, Joseph Larisa Jr, told The Providence Journal. “We just need to find a sports bettor who lost and wants his money back.”