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The group maintains that bypassing voters’ consent violated the state’s constitution, calling for an immediate statewide referendum in their legal claim.
Spearheaded by former GOP chairman Brandon Bell with assistance from attorney Joe Larisa, the lawsuit was filed on Wednesday, May 1st against state lottery officials.
Bell’s group specifically points out that brick and mortar sports betting in casinos and the soon-to-be-implemented online gaming option should have first been on a ballot before becoming legal in Rhode Island.
“Any expansion of gambling should go to the voters,” Bell told WPRI. “In this case, the legislature and the governor decided to bypass the voters.”
Larisa who filed the lawsuit on behalf of former Providence mayoral candidate Dr. Daniel Harrop argued that voters did not know they were voting on sports betting in previous referendums as the state argues.
“That any new types or particular forms of gambling in the state are not valid until the voters approve,” Larisa added.
“And as you’ll see in this hundred-plus paragraph complaint, at no time in 2012 for Lincoln or 2016 with the referendum for Newport, was sports betting anywhere near the ballot.”
But lawmakers argue that the initiative was on the ballot in 2016 when voters approved a table games expansion at the Twin River Casino in Lincoln.
“All of the legal advice I have received has been consistent, (that) the voters approved sports wagering when they approved casino gaming,” Senate President Dominick Ruggerio said.
“I am very confident that the state will prevail in any challenge.”
Rhode Island’s Governor Gina Raimondo’s statement to the media echoed Ruggiero’s comments.
“Multiple legal opinions have affirmed that sports betting was already approved by the voters,” Gov. Raimondo said.
“The revenue from sports betting supports investments in education, health care, infrastructure and more, and we remain confident that it will be upheld in court.”
For Bell, the lawsuit is not about sports betting as much as it is about legislators approving measures on their own without consent from voters.
“This is about the power of the people, not the politicians,” he said. “The people should be making the decision.”
Bell admitted to WPRI that if given the chance he would support a sports betting measure, but reiterated he was never given that opportunity.
Bell’s group is asking for halt of sports betting in the state until a vote can be taken by state residents.
If the injunction is granted, the earliest a vote could be taken would likely be in the fall, around November.
One of the worries of gaming officials in Rhode Island is that the lawsuit could stop the forward momentum of the development of an online app that would allow sports betting inside the state’s boundaries.
Online betting is expected to be ready in late summer, before the upcoming NFL season.
Bookmakers are hoping the app will boost revenue, as early totals from sports betting in Rhode Island have fallen well short of estimates.
Interested in more news on Rhode Island sports betting? Then take a look at this article on the Rhode Island revenues from sports betting.
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