Sports activities betting and on-line playing are one step nearer to actuality in CT as payments advance

Cloe Poisson ::

Slots at Mohegan Sun, where every other machine is closed to encourage social distancing during the pandemic.

Connecticut got closer to legalizing sports betting and online gambling on Wednesday with a legislative committee voting to send bills to the Senate and House of Representatives to expand gambling.

The Public Safety Committee’s action recently presented to the General Assembly an agreement recently made by Governor Ned Lamont’s government with the Mashantucket Pequots and Mohegans, the tribal nations with exclusive rights to casino gambling.

The committee’s action was expected but marks a milestone in the Lamont government’s struggle to overcome the legal and historical complexities of tribal treaties, changing market dynamics, and the conflicting parochial interests of the legislative blocs.

Various elements of the deal and related issues are contained in three bills, one by the administration and two by the legislature. A fourth would allow the tribes to develop a casino in Bridgeport, a business neither of the tribes wants to take over.

The governor’s bill, which is sure to evolve ahead of a vote in both houses, was adopted with a bipartisan vote of 20-2 with three absences and sent to the House, as was a corresponding consumer protection measure.

A bill by Senator Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, in whose district both tribes live, would use part of the new gaming revenue for local aid to the communities. It was approved and sent to the Senate.

With the committee facing a legislative reporting deadline this week, the committee has been forwarding draft laws on the fly, a common approach to complex legislation. Unresolved are questions such as whether wagering on college sports should be allowed in Connecticut, regulatory oversight, and protection from problem gambling.

“This is an ongoing conversation,” said Rep. Maria Horn, D-Salisbury, the committee co-chair. “There are details to be worked out.”

Lamont and his predecessor, Governor Dannel P. Malloy, and to a lesser extent Governor M. Jodi Rell, have all viewed advanced gambling as a source of income, but the political and cultural landscape has changed dramatically in recent years, as the US Supreme Court overturns Restrictions on sport and the ubiquity of online commerce.

Lamont’s communications director Max Reiss said the administration and the tribes have agreed on a 21st century approach to gambling that will benefit the bottom line of tribal casinos and revenue for the state.

If approved by the General Assembly, not only would sports betting be legal, but any smartphone and computer would be a portal for betting on sports, playing casino games, and buying CT lottery tickets. The lottery, whose contributions to the state treasury continue to grow when casino revenues decline, is allowed to offer sports betting along with the tribes.

For the first time, Rep. Michael DiMassa, D-West Haven, said the subject is ripe and the Lamont government is finding a compromise with the tribes over exclusivity. With other states advocating sports betting, it is time the General Assembly made a major change in gambling policy.

“I think at this point this body has to decide, and lawmakers have to decide whether we want to push sports betting or put it back on the shelf,” he said. “If we put it back on the shelf, you lose its economic value. We lose to other states that do this. “

Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford, was the main voice of the opposition, warning that not opening sports betting to open competition constitutes a solicitation of litigation as a possible violation of the constitutional equality clause.

Sportech, which is licensed by the state to offer off-track betting, has threatened to request a stake in online sports betting. Under the deal that Lamont had with the Tribes, the CT Lottery would license sports betting with Sportech in stationary locations, not online.

Horn said the lottery could include Sportech in its online book.

Fishbein was unaffected by the argument that the tribes were entitled to exclusive sports betting rights. Sports betting is not mentioned in the state’s contracts with the tribes, he said.

That’s right, but they give the tribes the exclusive rights to casino games in the sense of Class III games under federal law relating to sports betting.

“There was a tricky needle – legal needle – to be thread here,” said Horn.

Under the existing exclusivity agreement, the tribes pay the state 25% of the gross slots winnings. That agreement has raised more than $ 8 billion in the state since the tribal casinos Foxwoods Resort and Mohegan Sun opened a quarter of a century ago.

If the exclusivity deal is broken, the tribes could stop paying the 25%. The state could try to offset the lost revenue by inviting commercial casinos to the state, but the regional market has become less attractive with new competition in New York, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.

Annual payments from the two casinos to Connecticut peaked at $ 430 million in 2007 and have steadily declined as casinos expand in neighboring states.

The lottery surpassed casino revenue for the state in 2013 when the lottery produced $ 312 million, compared to the casinos’ total of $ 296 million. In 2019, the last year before the COVID-19 pandemic squeezed sales, the lottery produced $ 370 million. the casinos, $ 255 million.

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