Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen issued an opinion on Tuesday that darkens an already graying picture for the prospect a signed bill this session legalizing sports wagering in Connecticut.
“It is our opinion that if sports betting were to become lawful in Connecticut, the Tribes would not have an exclusive right under the existing Compacts and [Memoranda of Understanding between the State and the Tribes, or ‘MOUs’] to offer it,” Jepsen wrote to the Connecticut Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz, in an opinion first reported by Daniel Wallach.
So, that’s a problem.
Connecticut Sports Betting Bills Looking Even Less Likely to Advance This Session After Attorney General Weighs in Again on Exclusivity Agreements
Previously when legal sports betting bill HB 5307 went up for discussion in the Public Safety & Security Committee, AG Jepsen offered pretty much the same advice, but he goes into greater detail here (edited for clarity):
“The [Tribal-State Compact and Agreements] set out a list of authorized games. Sports betting is not listed as an authorized game. By contrast, for example, pari-mutuel betting on horse and dog racing and jai alai games are authorized games. The exclusion of sports betting from the specific list of authorized games is compelling evidence that the Compacts do not presently authorize it.”
HB 5307, “An Act Concerning Sports Wagering in The State,” is an open-ended bill that is currently tabled. It invites sports-betting regulations from the Commissioner of Consumer Protections. Senate Bill 540 by the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee is a league-friendly bill that’s been referred to the Office of Legislative Research and Office of Fiscal Analysis for hearing April 23.
In testimony at a hearing about HB 5307 on March 15, a representative for one of the two tribes, Seth Young for Foxwoods Resorts Casino, writes: “While I am not a lawyer for Foxwoods or the Tribe, I will also state for the record that I know the tribes believe sports gambling, daily fantasy sports betting, and iGaming fall under the exclusivity agreement.”
So sports betting does have tribal support, but the existing Tribal-State agreement and the sports-betting laws need alterations.
What’s at stake? A whole lot of beans unrelated to sports, in the form of slot machine revenue. The state will collect many more millions from slots — about $260 million in 2018 alone — than it will ever derive annually from sports betting.
“The Tribes may argue, however, that a state law permitting sports wagering in Connecticut would violate the exclusivity provisions of the MOUs,” Jepsen wrote.
Violation of such would mean that the Tribes would be relieved of paying an agreed-upon 25 percent of gross slot machine revenue, in the event that the state legalized “video facsimiles or other commercial casino games.
Whether sports betting is a commercial casino game is an “open question,” per the AG. (There’s the possibility for iGaming’s introduction and corresponding revenue in these bills, as well.)
[Also See: Sports-Betting Legalization Effort Is Dead in Oklahoma, for Now]
There’s also the murky gaming matter in Connecticut regarding the construction of a jointly-developed casino in East Windsor by the Mashantucket Pequot (Foxwoods) and Mohegan Tribes, which has stalled due to a lawsuit involving the Department of the Interior.
“To take action on the assumption that the State and Tribes will succeed in the ongoing litigation would be highly imprudent,” Jepsen wrote.
Moreover, the clock is ticking on House Bill 5305, which would open up bidding on a fourth Connecticut casino property to both commercial and tribal interests. MGM Resorts has been fighting for the right to construct one in Bridgeport.
Last week, Aresimowicz said regarding any of the gaming legislation under consideration this session: “I don’t know that we’re going to finish anything up this session. … there’s a lot of moving parts and not having a comprehensive plan makes it more difficult.”
“I think it will be a heavy lift to get done in the next couple of weeks,” said Rep. Themis Klarides (R-114th District).
Connecticut’s session ends on May 9 and the lift just got even heavier.
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