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Implementation of Mobile Gambling Delayed in Rhode Island

05/23/2019

Earlier this year, the Rhode Island legislature passed a bill that would allow the state's residents to bet on sports online or via a a PC or mobile app. While the bill was actually signed into law by Gov. Gina Raimondo shortly after passage, R.I. residents still don't have access to any form of online gambling.

At issue would seem to be the motivation of the state's one and only authorized mobile sports betting provider to get things done. As part of the legislation that was passed, the Twin River Management Group was handed what essentially amounts to government-sanctioned monopoly on legal mobile sports betting in R.I. Without the requisite competition to force the issue, the Twin River Management Group seems content to take its sweet time giving sports gamblers the online access they desire.

This does not follow the implementation model used in other states like Delaware and New Jersey. In those states, several gambling content providers were given the appropriate licenses to provide online gambling access to its respective residents. Using this approach, top sports gambling providers like DraftKings were quick to give gamblers exactly what they wanted in order to gain a competitive edge. 

Additional Reason for the Delay

Before anyone starts to place all the blame for the delay related to online gambling access on the shoulders of the Twin River Management Group, there's another consideration. There's a potential legal issue that needs to be addressed before the coast is truly clear to give residents access to online and mobile gambling services. 

It turns out that the Rhode Island state constitution requires any type of expansion of gambling to be approved by the state’s voters via a referendum at the polls. In an effort to get around this law, the Democrat led legislature chose to move control of online gambling activity under the umbrella of the state's lottery. It would appear that is a no-go solution in the eyes of former R.I. Republican chairman Brandon Bell, who recently filed a lawsuit to force an actual referendum.

If the courts support his position and require voters to decide the issue at the polls, the ability of the state's licensed bookmakers to provide online betting access before the start of the lucrative NFL season would be in jeopardy. The vote would not be offered until voters go to the polls at the scheduled time unless the assembly were to call for and agree to a special election.

 
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