The Ripple Effect Of Rhode Island Lawsuit On MA Sports Betting

Written By Derek Helling on June 27, 2019 - Last Updated on March 1, 2023
Lawsuit effect on MA sports betting

A Rhode Island sports betting lawsuit to force a vote on the issue might see a decision within weeks. If that’s the case, Rhode Islanders could be voting on sports betting this November.

For Massachusetts residents who were planning to legally bet on sports by traveling to Rhode Island soon, this update bears watching.

Sports betting lawsuit sees new action

On Monday, June 24, lawyers for Rhode Island Republican activist Daniel Harrop asked a superior court for summary judgment on his complaint. The result could be a quick action.

Harrop’s argument to the court is that approval of legal sports betting in his state requires a voter referendum. The filing argues the state’s constitution makes that point clear, so no trial is necessary.

By asking the court for summary judgment, Harrop hopes to avoid a trial. The point of that is clear. If the court grants the request, a measure could be put on the ballot this November.

If the request is denied, that would leave the legality of sports betting in the state up in the air. A number of possibilities come into play.

What happens if the request is denied

Rhode Island lawmakers could make the point of the lawsuit moot and schedule a referendum on the issue of sports betting this November. Harrop would likely withdraw his suit in that scenario.

If legislators don’t pursue that course of action, Harrop could continue with his complaint through litigation. That would delay the actual implementation of sports betting in Rhode Island indefinitely.

The discovery process, scheduling arguments and then the actual trial could take months. Add to that the length of time the presiding judge takes to render his decision, and a year becomes possible.

If the judge in that situation should find against Harrop, Harrop might appeal that decision all the way up to the state’s Supreme Court. That would add many more months to the process.

The longer the delay in Rhode Island, the better for parties interested in sports betting in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts in no hurry to legalize sports betting

Except for a couple of hearings earlier this month, the Massachusetts Legislature has taken no action on legalizing sports betting. That lack of activity is intentional.

Massachusetts lawmakers like state Sen. Eric Lesser have stated that they prefer to take their time on legalizing sports betting. The legislators highly value producing a regulatory framework that will be as close to perfect as possible.

The August recess for the Legislature is just weeks away. That means no action is likely on the topic of sports betting or taxing daily fantasy sports in Massachusetts until the assembly reconvenes in January.

Massachusetts casinos could pressure lawmakers

The legislature is likely waiting for November. If sports betting in Rhode Island is still held up by Harrop’s lawsuit or it is defeated at the polls, it will relieve any pressure Massachusetts lawmakers might feel to move more quickly.

Casinos in Massachusetts might step in to replace that pressure. Potential online sportsbook operators like Boston-based DraftKings Sportsbook might join them. The theme might be that with things held up in Rhode Island, there’s an opportunity.

Instead of fearing losing customers to Rhode Island casinos offering sports betting, Massachusetts casinos would instead try to get the Legislature to allow them to be “first to market” when it comes to sports betting.

All these scenarios now hinge upon what the Rhode Island court decides to do with Harrop’s request. Either way, interested parties in Massachusetts will be watching intently.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a lead writer for PlayUSA and the manager of BetHer. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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