Bill allowing wagers on R.I.-based college sports teams passes Senate

PROVIDENCE – The Senate on Tuesday approved legislation that would allow for wagers to be placed on Rhode Island-based college sports teams or on in-state tournaments, options that are currently prohibited.

The bill was filed by Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio, who has championed the modification in recent months. As currently written, the changes are limited to wagers on in-state contests where collegiate teams “are participating in tournaments that consist of four or more teams.” The bill does not amend the provision that prohibits wagers on performance or the statistics of individual players.

In a statement Tuesday, Ruggerio, who sponsored the legislation that legalized sports betting in 2018, noted the increased popularity and the revenue being lost to the state, calling the legislation “a very small change.”

“In recent years, successful seasons for local college sports teams have generated a great deal of excitement across our state … providing entertainment for fans and generating critical revenue for our state,” he said. “This legislation will enable Rhode Islanders to wager on their favorite college teams when they are participating in highly anticipated events like March Madness.”

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Massachusetts, which legalized sports betting in January, did not preclude bets on in-state collegiate teams in its own law, a fact not lost on supporters of changing the law in Rhode Island.

“Ultimately, when residents of our state seek to place wagers during college tournaments, we shouldn’t be forcing them to go to Massachusetts or Connecticut,” said Ruggerio, D-North Providence. “We want to keep those fans, and those dollars, here at home.”

The amendment passed the Senate 32-4. Voting against the bill were Sens. Samuel Bell, D-Providence; Tiara Mack, D-Providence; Dawn Euer, D-Newport; and Linda Ujifusa, D-Portsmouth.

During Tuesday’s floor debate, Bell said he wasn’t against sports wagering “in principle,” but argued Ruggerio’s legislation was unconstitutional because it expanded gambling without voter approval via a statewide referendum. He also questioned what he views as a lack of protections against the social consequences, particularly considering mobile sports betting, which has brought a convenience that many have argued has led to increases in requests for problem gambling services.

“There was a reason for this original exclusion [of in-state wagers]. When you have something on a phone, sometimes you can become addicted,” he said. “It’s a reality.”

Sen. Frank A. Ciccone III, D-Providence, pushed back against Bell’s assertion, saying there are adequate provisions in the current law such as the requirement that Bally’s Corp., which owns Bally’s Twin River Lincoln Casino and Bally’s Tiverton Casino & Hotel, fund a minimum of $200,000 annually to the R.I. Lottery toward problem gambling prevention based on the need for services. According to the Rhode Island Council on Problem Gambling, this amounted to $549,617 in fiscal 2021 toward these efforts.

“There is money going to problem gambling and for educational purposes,” Ciccone said.

The legislation now moves to the House of Representatives.

Christopher Allen is a PBN staff writer. You may contact him at