PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Just months after the start of legal sports betting in Rhode Island, a Republican-led group is seeking to halt it so voters can weigh-in.
Former RIGOP Chairman Brandon Bell and attorney Joe Larisa filed a lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of former GOP Providence mayoral candidate Daniel Harrop. The trio claims when state leaders passed sports betting legislation for Twin River casino, and later mobile sports betting, it should have gone to a state-wide ballot.
“Any expansion of gambling should go to the voters,” Bell said. “In this case, the legislature and the governor decided to bypass the voters.”
At issue is the 2016 ballot. On it, voters approved expanding table games at Lincoln’s Twin River Casino.
Governor Gina Raimondo and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio claim the question covered all class 3 gambling. Class 3 is a broad term for multiple types of betting.
The lawsuit claims voters believed they were simply approving table games considering the United States Supreme Court had not paved the way for legalized sports betting until 2018.
The legal challenge is not unexpected.
In the Senate floor debate for mobile gaming, State Senator Donna Nesselbush said, “I suspect that there may end up being a legal challenge on this.”
Senator Sam Bell added, “What’s the harm in asking the voters?”
Despite this, Senators went on to overwhelmingly approve the measure.
“All of the legal advice I have received has been consistent – the voters approved sports wagering when they approved casino gaming, and I am very confident that the state will prevail in any challenge,” Ruggerio said in a statement.
A spokesperson Raimondo added, “Multiple legal opinions have affirmed that sports betting was already approved by the voters. 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.”
Larisa believes voters in 2016 didn’t believe they were approving sports betting.
“The words sports betting weren’t on the ballot,” he said. “The words sports betting wasn’t in the handbook. ‘How did they approve it?’ is the question we’ll be asking Superior Court.”
Bell admits if he gets the chance to vote as a citizen, he would likely approve sports betting.
He said the lawsuit isn’t about what voters will decide, it’s about their right to the decision.
“This is about the power of the people, not the politicians,” he said. “The people should be making the decision.”