Constitutionality of Rhode Island Sports Betting Challenged in State Lawsuit

Posted on: May 1, 2019, 12:13h. 

Last updated on: May 1, 2019, 12:13h.

A lawsuit attempting to immediately stop all legal forms of sports betting in Rhode Island was filed in state court on Wednesday because the proposal was never allegedly presented to state voters before being enacted by politicians.

Former Rhode Island Republican Party Chair Brandon Bell helped to prepare a lawsuit which challenges sports betting in the Ocean State. (Image: YouTube)

The complaint — prepared by prominent Republican attorneys — says the process used by Ocean State officials to implement wagering on athletic events was unconstitutional. Instead, the suit seeks a statewide referendum so voters can weigh in before athletic wagering can proceed.

Governor’s Office Responds

The suit was filed against the state’s lottery and other agencies or officials. It is likely attorneys representing the state will try to get the lawsuit dismissed in Providence Superior Court.

In response, Josh Block, press secretary for Gov. Gina M. Raimondo, a Democrat, told, “Multiple legal opinions have affirmed that sports betting was already approved by the voters … and we remain confident that it will be upheld in court.”

Block points out that revenue from sports betting supports education, health care, infrastructure and other programs.

The plaintiff, Dennis Harrop, a former Republican mayoral candidate in Providence, is represented by attorneys Brandon Bell, a former GOP state chair, and Joseph Larisa Jr., a former mayor of East Providence and ex-chief of staff to Gov. Lincoln Almond, also a Republican.

One of its key arguments is that the Rhode Island constitution requires any new types of gambling to be approved by voters both statewide and in the municipality where it is to be conducted.

Before sports betting was introduced last year at Twin River venues in Lincoln and Tiverton, only video lotteries and table games were conducted at the two casinos.

The lawsuit also tries stop the recently approved implementation of online sports betting via smart phones, tablets or computers from anywhere in the state. That is another “new type of gambling” requiring voter approval, the lawsuit says.

Online sports betting was enacted by Rhode Island officials in March but has yet to commence. The state is likely to provide online bettors an app in November, Rhode Island Department of Revenue spokesman Paul Grimaldi has told

Lawsuit Challenges Legal Reasoning

The lawsuit further rejects the reasoning of many state officials that sports betting was by default approved by Rhode Island voters in 2012 and 2016 referendums when considering other forms of gambling.

Rhode Island voters never even considered sports betting as an option in the statewide votes, because until the US Supreme Court decision last May, sports betting in almost all states, including Rhode Island, “would have been illegal under federal law,” the lawsuit says.

A year ago, the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) — which banned most forms of sports betting — was overturned by the high court’s ruling.

Also, in 1994 the Rhode Island constitution was amended so “the people — not the politicians — have the final say on any act ‘expanding the types or locations of gambling’ permitted in Rhode Island or in any city or town … in which a particular form of gambling is authorized,’” the suit says.

Additionally, the lawsuit notes that sports betting is a “different type” of gambling.

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

Following May’s ruling, Rhode Island was the eighth state that instituted sports betting, and many others are considering it. In March, Rhode Island became the sixth state to approve some form of online or mobile betting, though it is not underway in all locations yet.

For in-person sports betting, Rhode Island receives 51 percent of winnings, which is among the highest rates in the US. Online sports betting will be taxed at the same rate.