On the edge of discussions of Rhode Island’s government-driven gambling industry has been Dr. Daniel Harrop’s lawsuit trying to force the state to conduct elections at the state and local levels before going forward with sports gambling.
On the surface, Harrop (a member of the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s board) should have a strong case. Here’s the first sentence of Article VI, Section 22, of the state’s constitution:
No act expanding the types or locations of gambling which are permitted within the state or within any city or town therein or expanding municipalities in which a particular form of gambling is authorized shall take effect until it has been approved by the majority of those electors voting in a statewide referendum and by the majority of those electors voting in said referendum in the municipality in which the proposed gambling would be allowed and, having been so approved in said referendum in any city or town on or after November 4, 2014, the location where the gambling is permitted in any city or town shall not be changed within said city or town without approval of the majority of those electors voting on said proposed change in a referendum in said city or town.
The proposition that sports betting is an “expanded type” of gambling is plainly proven by the fact that the state didn’t apply either of its existing formulas for distributing revenue. Table games and video slots produce different percentages for the casino, the state, and the host community. For sports betting, the state made up a whole new arrangement.
The attitude one picks up among the people, however, is, “Who cares?” Once we’ve opened the way for casino table games, adding sports betting seems like just part of the package.
Within a couple of years, however, Rhode Islanders might wish they had held the constitutional line just a little bit more firmly. Here’s Dan McGowan, writing in the Boston Globe:
Under the terms of the agreement, IGT would have an online lottery system – think scratch tickets or PowerBall on your iPhone – up and running no later than October 21, 2021.
The details are sparse, but one gets the image of online apps that people can play whenever they want on their phones. Connect a credit card to your account, and the door is open to nonstop gambling… anywhere.
Even people with libertarian leanings should pause over that prospect. Yes, society must answer the freedom question — whether it wants to allow its people to do this — but we must also consider whether we want government involved and, if so, in what capacity. Where we’re headed is not a place in which the state throws open the door for people to do what they want. We’re also not looking at a future in which the government regulates private-sector gambling businesses for the benefit (presumably) of the people.
This will be government engaged in a corporate, perhaps predatory, activity to extract money from the people, which it will do inevitably at the expense of other things on which folks might spend their money.