Betting the House for Rhode Island

Isn’t it interesting that just about the time the State of Rhode Island enters the table-game casino business, legislators would begin to think that this language in the General Laws might be, well, inconvenient?

11-19-17  Invalidity of instruments won in bets on races or fights. –  All bonds, notes, judgments, mortgages, deeds or other securities, as well as promises, given or made for money, lands, houses, or other property, or article or piece of property, real, personal, or mixed, won at any game, or by betting at any race or fight, or for the repayment of money knowingly lent for such gaming or betting, shall be utterly void.

The legislative history dates the law back to 1896, with changes made every fifteen years or so until 1956, after which it remained untouched.  Nothing inspires the government to take another look at how people can use their money and assets so well as developments that put the government in a position to take ownership of that money and those assets.

Introduced last week, as the legislative session enters its downhill phase, H6125 would repeal that section of the law entirely, making the change “retroactive and prospective,” meaning that if a retired couple has already lost their house and retirement account at gambling by the time the law goes into effect, the government and the casino that it operates will still be able to cash in. This is a rather stark example of what small-government advocates mean when they worry that, when government enters a particular market, it will tend to adapt that market to its own needs, giving itself a competitive advantage while maximizing the extent to which it can profit.

Here are the five sponsors listed on the bill:

  • Edith Ajello (D, Providence)
  • Maria Cimini (D, Providence)
  • Robert Craven (D, North Kingstown)
  • Donna Walsh (D, Charlestown, New Shoreham, South Kingstown, and Westerley)
  • Larry Valencia (D, Richmond, Exeter, Hopkinton)

Beyond increasing state revenue, other policy implications aren’t immediately clear.  If the legislators get creative, perhaps they could transform it into a pension problem fix by putting slot machines in all state offices to allow government employees to gamble their future pensions away.

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