Rep. Faria looks to sports betting for relief

PROVIDENCE — Central Falls Rep. Joseph Faria isn’t going to challenge the federal government, but if and when the State of New Jersey manages to invalidate Congress’ 1993 decision to ban sports betting in all but four states, he wants Rhode Island to get a piece of the action.

According to Rep. Faria, New Jersey voters are on the verge of challenging the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1993 (PASPA), and he wants his fellow legislators to cash in on legalized sports gambling should they succeed.

Faria said he intends to introduce a bill in the coming week that would earmark the theoretical tax proceeds from legalized sports betting for Rhode Island’s struggling education system.

“How many options do we have to raise considerable revenue without raising taxes,” he wrote in a statement Tuesday, “Sports betting offers us an opportunity to take the money out of the hands of illegal bookmakers and use it to fortify state revenues.”

Faria acknowledged that his plan depends on the success of New Jersey’s legislative attempt to make the legalization of “in-person wagering at casinos (in Atlantic City) on the results of professional sports events,” a referendum question for the next general election.

If the bill passes and Garden State voters say “yes” to sports betting in Atlantic City, there’s still no guarantee the federal courts will see it their way.

If PASPA is struck down by the Supreme Court, however, Bandarq Rep. Faria hopes his fellow lawmakers will “capitalize” on the opportunity to legitimize it, regulate it, place it under the jurisdiction of the Rhode Island Lottery Commission and tax it.

But even if the question of sports betting becomes a state question, there’s nothing to stop Rhode Island’s lawmakers from enacting their own ban, and little reason to believe they wouldn’t do just that.

Rhode Island State Police Maj. Steven O’Donnell, who spent six years undercover as a bookmaker for the Patriarca Crime Family, said he’s learned a lot about the culture of illegal gambling and what it can do to individuals, families and communities.

“You get consumed with it” he said, “you’re always watching the games, trying to double or triple your money. It wasn’t my personal money — it was the state’s money — but I still found myself consumed by it. We can tax it, but the (gambling addicts and their families) will still pay the real price.”

At any rate, said O’Donnell, legitimate sports betting would find the Ocean State particularly inhospitable.

“There’s almost no incentive to go legitimate,” he said.

For his part, Rep. Faria insists he would rather legitimize an imperfect industry than see the state’s educational system fall by the wayside.

“There has always been some kind of illegal gambling, and just like prostitution, it’s been around forever and it’s not going to go away. But we can legalize it, control it.

“The governor made a statement recently that any new revenues from gambling should go to the property tax relief. I say this should go to education.”