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Legal Challenge to Rhode Island Sports Betting

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The fledgling sports betting industry in Rhode Island is under threat from a legal challenge launched by the state’s Republican party last week.

Rhode Island was one of the first US states to legalise sports betting last year in the wake of the Supreme Court decision to overturn the 1992 PASPA Act, and is one of eight states where sports betting is legal, though that number is likely to grow considerably before the end of the year.

Under the regulations introduced last year, the Rhode Island state lottery has the responsibility for regulating sports betting, while well-known industry operators IGT and William Hill have been working with casinos and the lottery organisation on the infrastructure of sports wagering.

And the Ocean State has recently pushed ahead with an attempt to expand sports betting to include mobile betting, with Senate Bill S37, which would introduce mobile wagering as early as the final quarter of this year, already on the desk of Governor Gina Raimondo.

While there has been only muted opposition to the wave of legalisation across the US, in the case of Rhode Island, local opposition appears to be focused on the way that legalisation was implemented. According to reports in the US media, former Rhode Island Republican Party Chair Brandon Bell has prepared a law suit that claims the process of legalizing sports betting used in the state was unconstitutional, and that the decision should be put to a referendum of Rhode Island residents. 

The suit will argue that sports wagering, as legalised last year, is a fundamentally different type of gambling to the casino table games that were approved in referendums in 2012 and 2016. The suit also attempts to delay the effect of Senate Bill S37. 

In response, the governor’s office released a statement asserting that a number of legal opinions have supported the constitutionality of sports betting in the state, and that the revenue gained from sports betting has already benefitted a number of areas of public investment.

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