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Lawmakers consider legalizing bracket pools and other social bets

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — NCAA bracket pools, along with other types of monetary betting, would be legalized in Rhode Island under legislation being considered by the General Assembly.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Gregg Amore, D-East Providence, was the only person to testify in person at a House Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday. His bill would legalize a type of gambling so ubiquitous, many people don’t know it’s banned: betting among friends.

“So any bet between friends where there’s not a third party collecting money and where all the money is dispersed to the winner,” Rep. Amore said in an interview with Eyewitness News.

Amore said his love of sports was a factor in introducing the bill; he can’t participate in NCAA pools or bet on the Providence Friars, his alma mater.

He says the biggest issue with the current law – which bans all gambling outside of state regulation, such as in a casino or the lottery – is that everyone is doing it and the law is rarely enforced.

“You can use this as retribution in the office place,” Amore said. “You’re unhappy with someone engaged in the pool, you could call the police and say this person is is involved in an illegal activity in my office, the police have to respond.”

Under his proposal, social gambling among friends such as a poker game or sports bet would be legal as long as all the money put into the pool is paid out to the winner(s). A bar or establishment could tack $100 onto its liquor license in order to organize pools publicly, as long as the house doesn’t get a cut of the cash.

In his testimony to the Judiciary Committee, Amore brought up Gov. Gina Raimondo’s bet with Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker over an NCAA hockey game between the Friars and Boston University last year. Baker bought Raimondo a meal as a result.

“Technically, there was something gained from that bet, and according to the rule of law that would be illegal,” Amore said. “No one threw any cuffs on the governor.”

It’s an example, Amore said, of why current gambling law is antiquated.

“You diminish all law when you have a bad law on the books,” he added.

Rhode Island State Police Superintendent Col. Steven O’Donnell wrote a letter to Amore and the members of the committee, urging them to oppose the legislation.

“I believe the potential for abuse is great due to the lack of oversight and control over organizations that would be allowed to conduct these pools or lotteries,” O’Donnell wrote. “This will lead to increased criminal activity as there is almost no mechanism to monitor the events.”

The Judiciary committee did not vote on the legislation Wednesday evening. The Senate is considering an identical bill.

Below is the full letter from Col. Steven O’Donnell.

Letter from Col. Steven O'Donnell to House Judiciary Committee

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