It’s not an identity crisis– Connecticut just suffers from the most modern of ailments, indecision and legislative gridlock. In 2018, as soon as the federal restrictions were lifted, Connecticut legislators looked down the I-95 to Atlantic City and saw an opportunity to be among the first in New England to offer legal, online sports betting. However, plenty of questions remained.
After plenty of back and forth with local tribes, it looks like 2021 will finally see Connecticut mobile sports betting come to fruition. This victory for sports bettors didn’t come easy and the details aren’t set in stone yet, but we’re close. Read below for our total recap of Connecticut sports betting – from the very beginning, to where we are currently, to what a legal and regulated market will look like.
Best Legal Sports Betting Sites in Connecticut
What does the future hold for Connecticut sports betting?
So where are we now with Connecticut sports betting? “Cautiously optimistic” is the phrase that comes to mind. The state looks headed for a small, but fully functional online sports betting marketplace complete with mobile registration. Retail betting is also likely to be included at locations like Foxwoods and the Mohegan Sun.
The long standing duopoly with the Mashantucket Pequot and the Mohegan tribes running the show looks set to hold as we approach a regulated sports betting market. However, this hold hasn’t been uncontested. During the legislative process there was a push to involve the Connecticut Lottery and off track betting (OTB) locations as potential iGaming licensees. However, on January 13, 2021, a placeholder bill (SB 146) was filed in Connecticut that specified that the tribes would be in charge.
The filing of SB 146 was a massive win for both involved tribes, and Connecticut sports bettors hoping for progress. Tribal opposition to anything other than a continuation of their monopolistic control over gaming in the state is part of what has prevented CT from moving forward sooner. However, as compromises arise between them and the state, legal online sports betting draws closer.
With more than 25 years of successful collaboration in their back pocket, Connecticut officials seem ready to stick with a slightly expanded status-quo. The current setup doesn’t leave a heck of a lot of room for competition, but it’s argued that the nearly $10 billion in accumulated revenue and tens of thousands of jobs generated by the two tribes’ gaming facilities is enough reason to continue to let them steer the ship and have exclusive rights to sports betting in the state.
Others, like Rep. Joe Verrangia and, to a certain extent, Governor Ned Lamont, have argued that this lack of competition is borderline unconstitutional or at best unfavorable for the state.
New CT sports betting bill on the way
State senator Cathy Osten is on a multi-year quest to bring sports betting to Connecticut. However, it hasn’t been easy, with obstacles a plenty. Fellow legislators, the state government, and corporations like MGM have all stood in the way. The “Act Concerning Jobs In and Revenue From the Gaming Industry” (SB 21), which would protect the two tribes’ exclusive rights over casino gaming and extend to sports betting was brought forth in 2020 but only made it as far as public hearing. A revamped version is in the works.
Osten’s new bill sticks with the Tribal duopoly, though the state’s new Governor, Ned Lamont, would need to revisit aspects of the compact.
Replenishing the CT coffers
As the state and the world at large realizes the cost of the COVID-19 pandemic, human and otherwise, economies are listing deficits across the board. Connecticut is no different, and is likely eyeing the potential revenue brought to the table by the Mashantucket Pequot and the Mohegan properties with hungry eyes. On the operator’s side, social distancing restrictions have made a huge dent to in-person revenue, so having an available mobile platform to pivot to when in-person visits are stagnating is a low-overhead way to keep cash coming in.
Sports betting on its own doesn’t generate nearly as much revenue as slots, and the two tribes (Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan) that dominate the betting scene in CT send hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue back to the CT government through fees on slots alone. Being denied exclusive access to the sports betting market is a publicly-stated reason for the tribes to pull out of the initial MOUs, so there’s an incentive to choose to let the tribes continue to enjoy their exclusivity on the sports front.
When will sports betting launch in Connecticut?
The early 2021 legislative session in Connecticut will run until June, so we hope to see developments soon. If the bill progresses as expected, licensed, regulated sports betting could be available online and in-person in 2021.
Foxwoods teams with DraftKings
In late 2020 Foxwoods elected to team up with DraftKings to allow for online sports betting via Mashantucket Pequot-owned properties. This pends state approval of course, but previous statements indicate that the tribe doesn’t really believe that the state has any say in the matter anymore, even going so far as to threaten to withhold payments from slot revenue to the state. They want sports betting, and mean business.
Whether that’s an ultimatum or a not-so-gentle reminder of the importance of tribal revenue in the state remains to be seen, but clearly the Mashantucket Pequot take their sovereignty seriously, citing a desire to “protect themselves”.
After you’ve contributed billions to a state’s economy for the privilege of offering casino games, it’s an understandable impulse to protect your revenue stream. Still, some people (including some members of the CT legislature) might feel like the tribal compacts are holding the market hostage. At any rate, Connecticut online sports betting looks like a definite reality for 2021, and when it launches, DraftKings is primed to be a big winner.
Projected Connecticut sportsbook operators
Nothing is done and dusted just yet, but more info about the eventual Connecticut sports betting landscape is revealed with each passing month. The number of online bookmakers eventually allowed in the state has not been set yet, however, some agreements have already been made.
As mentioned, DraftKings Sportsbook has teamed up with Foxwoods (the Mashantucket Pequot-owned casino) and is poised to offer sports betting in Connecticut. There are also talks of Unibet teaming up with Mohegan Sun. While Unibet’s presence is unconfirmed, it’s a logical conclusion to draw based on current arrangements in Pennsylvania. Both FanDuel and BetMGM will also be looking for a way in.
However, if things take a turn and somehow the tribes are not granted their continued exclusive access to the market, we may see more competition thrown in the mix. Connecticut is on the smaller side, but actually has more people than Iowa which currently supports 10+ online sportsbooks. The state could support plenty of operators.
Gambling facilities in Connecticut
Connecticut has had legalized gambling in one form or another since the 1970’s. Horse racing and interestingly enough, jai alai becoming the first legal events to bet on. The main gambling facilities in Connecticut are:
- Casino Locations
- Mohegan Sun, owned and operated by the Mohegan tribe
- Foxwoods Resort Casino, owned and operated by the Mashantucket Pequot
- Off Track Betting Locations
- 15 locations throughout CT, run by Sportech under the Winners brand
- Connecticut Lottery
- Available at retailers
Additionally, there are a few proposed in-person gambling locations that may or may not get their legislative or executive approval. A list of potential Connecticut casinos includes:
- Tribal Winds Casino (proposed, tabled by MMCT in 2020)
- MGM Bridgeport (proposed)
The Tribal Winds project has halted development following concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Similarly, the Connecticut legislature hasn’t technically given approval for non-tribal casinos such as MGM to build off-reservation casinos. There’s pushback on many sides, but the tribes have the backing of existing legislation and a handful of dismissed lawsuits in which MGM was the plaintiff.
Popular sports teams in Connecticut
Connecticut may be small by land mass, but its population (more than 3.5 million!), and their love for sports is not. Connecticut sports fans are amongst the nation’s most passionate, following their favorite professional and college programs with ferocity.
Connecticut lost its one and only professional sports franchise, the NHL’s Hartford Whalers, back in 1997. Unable to secure funding for a new arena in Hartford, owner Peter Karmanos packed the team up and moved to Raleigh, North Carolina – birthing the Hurricanes. With that being said, there’s no lack of sports fandom in Connecticut. Both New England/Boston teams and NY clubs remain extremely popular.
- New England Teams:
- Boston Red Sox
- New England Patriots
- Boston Celtics
- Boston Bruins
- New England Revolution
- New York Teams:
- New York Yankees
- Brooklyn Nets
- New York Mets
- New York Knicks
- New York Rangers
- New York Liberty
- New York Red Bulls
- New York City FC
Legal Connecticut sportsbooks will enable users to bet on all of these teams, and plenty more. the NFL, NBA, MLB, MLS, NHL, and plenty of other domestic and international leagues/competitions will be fair game once Connecticut legalizes sports betting.
Then there’s the college draw. What the state lacks in professional teams, it makes for at the collegiate level. Connecticut is home to Yale in New Haven, University of Connecticut (UConn), Central Connecticut, University of Hartford and many others. College sports betting could be a fantastic boon to the CT economy, attracting a younger demographic.
Most states legalizing sports betting also allow for some form of betting on collegiate sports. That’s great news for Connecticut sports betting fans, since the state is known for its strong showing in D1 sports, particularly basketball. This includes:
- Central Conn Blue Devils
- UConn Huskies
- Fairfield University Stags
- University of Hartford Hawks
Connecticut tourism- who visits and why?
Connecticut, being sandwiched in between the two largest metropolitan areas of the Northeast, is a thoroughfare state. One in four people traveling to CT do so in route to another state. According to a 2017 study, travelers who spend money in CT tend to visit:
- Historic Sites
- Art Galleries
Pending approval, sports betting may soon join the list. Of the state’s major neighbors only Rhode Island has legalized online betting. However, Massachusetts and most importantly, New York, have not. First mover status could draw plenty of action across state borders into Connecticut.
The attention from bettors on collegiate sports and commuters notwithstanding, there’s also a decent subset of folks living closer to the MA and NY borders who would prefer to stay in-state to bet. For example, the MGM property in Springfield, MA is just 12 miles from the Connecticut border, while the only casinos in Connecticut are all in the southeast of the state, an hour’s drive from populated border towns. Having the ability to bet from a smartphone anywhere in Connecticut would tighten those leaks, keeping money in the CT economy and letting bettors wager without having to cross state lines.
Connecticut betting history – first in the New England gaming market
Connecticut is an old soul when it comes to the world of regulated gambling in New England, having established its first legal casino, Foxwoods, in 1992. This was a direct response to a suit brought by the Mashantucket Pequot tribe, which was itself a response to the newly-minted IGRA, or the federally-decided Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988.
Via the IGRA, the federal government created a framework for Native tribes to offer real-money wagering on their tribal lands. This is seen as a protected source of revenue for Native communities. In Connecticut, the Mashantucket Pequots jumped at the chance to negotiate a compact with CT legislators and start offering legal casino games, making their first request that same year, 1988. The request to negotiate was refused. Two years later, after having their hands forced by the second Circuit Court of Appeals, the Connecticut legislature was compelled to enter into good-faith negotiations within 180 days of the decision. Thus, the road to legal casino gaming in New England was paved.
Video slots caused hiccups, Tribes pay
Numerous legislative sessions arguing over the presence of “video facsimile” machines, i.e. video slots would follow in the next few years. Punishingly, Foxwoods was required to hand over 25% of their overall slot machine winnings to the state. If the casino doesn’t contribute at least $80 million each year through the agreement, the percentage ups to 30%. Around the same time, the Mohegan tribe would both gain federal recognition and enter a MOU, or Memorandum of Understanding with the CT government, allowing them to offer slots with the same 25% cut going to the state.
By 1996, both tribes had operational casinos with video slots in place, and waters were relatively calm in Connecticut. Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods had exclusive rights to offer a full casino experience including table games and video slots, but challengers lay in wait. Fast forward to 2015, and the two tribes have enjoyed nearly two decades of exclusive rights to casino gambling in CT. A little too quiet, perhaps.
Connecticut Tribes go off-reservation
Connecticut legislators floated the idea of allowing off-reservation casinos to be run by the Mashantucket Pequot and the Mohegan in the form of Senate Bill 1090. The two tribes created the joint venture MMCT (Mashantucket Pequot Mohegan CT) as a response, to begin the process of rolling out casinos in more locations in the state. Enter challengers MGM and the Schaghticoke tribe, both of whom would unsuccessfully attempt to challenge this proposed framework (SA 15-7) by arguing that giving the two tribes exclusive rights to casinos was a violation of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. As we’ll see, the Schaghticoke seem to have remained quiet about the dismissal of their case, but MGM didn’t get over this loss of a potential revenue stream in CT.
MGM files suit again, to be dismissed… again
Two years after the SA 15-7 framework became law, MGM brought yet another suit arguing that it should be able to compete for potential casino locations in CT and still had plans to break ground in Bridgeport, about an hour from the MA border. At the same time, a location in East Windsor was chosen by the tribes’ joint venture MMCT as the site for their first off-reservation casino, Tribal Winds, as legalized by the SA 15-7 framework.
MGM protested the decision to allow MMCT to operate off-reservation, arguing with the Department of the Interior that these decisions were in violation of the IGRA and previous amendments. Four claims were made by MGM and summarily dismissed, but MGM continued to protest. The proposed location for the MMCT-owned Tribal Winds in East Windsor is a mere 12 miles away from MGM’s Massachusetts location in Springfield, which itself is right down the road from the Basketball Hall of Fame. At the very least, MGM will lose out on some CT-based bettors who might not be as inclined to travel to Massachusetts.
2018 to Current
In 2018 the federal law prohibiting sports betting, PASPA, was deemed unconstitutional by the SCOTUS. In the time since many states have leapt at the chance to put legislation on the books, including Connecticut. That same year, after MGM’s second spate of lawsuits, HB 5307 was proposed in order to remove the two tribes’ exclusive grasp on betting in CT, but died at the House. In the years since, debate has raged over who will be allowed to offer sports betting in-state. As a legalization breakthrough approaches, both tribes have yet to cede any ground and look set to maintain their hold on gaming in Connecticut. Current estimates indicate that betting could launch in 2021.