When Connecticut lawmakers held one of the first public hearings on sports betting in the nation in 2018, there were plenty of fireworks. Among the highlights was this gem from Joe Verrengia (D-District 20), the chairman of the Public Safety and Security Committee: “What I’m not for is legislation that in some way, shape or form would line the pockets of MLB, NBA or any other major sports owners.”
Verrengia’s comment was in response to testimony from NBA Vice President Dan Spillane, who, at the time was lobbying for the unpopular “integrity fee.”
Nearly a year later, the same committee with the same chairman will hold Connecticut’s first sports betting public hearing, at 10 a.m. Tuesday. The witness list will not be set until the morning of the hearing, but depending on who signs up, the hearing could be explosive again, as Connecticut lawmakers have been struggling to find a way work with the two local tribes who run the state’s casinos, commercial entities interested in building casinos in multiple locations, the state lottery, and the pro leagues are still seeking an off-the-top cut by some name, as well as a mandate to use “official league data.”
Sports betting has political power in CT
Sports betting has plenty of political power behind it in Connecticut. Besides Verrengia openly supporting sports betting, House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz and Senate President pro tempore Martin Looney have both gone on record as supporting sports betting. And Connecticut is likely feeling more and more pressure to legalize, since neighbor Rhode Island has already done so, and both New Hampshire and Massachusetts have active sports betting legislation — 15 bills have been filed in Massachusetts — circulating around their respective capitols.
Tuesday’s hearing is predicated on a handful of gaming bills, including SB 17 and SB 665, both of which are sports betting placeholder bills. In fact the entire text of SB 665 reads: “To establish competitive sports wagering on certain sporting events.”
SB 17 is a bi-partisan bill with sponsors from both the Senate and the House that would legalize mobile sports betting tied to the state’s two tribal casinos — Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun. Neither bill has any framework, regulatory detail or tax information.
“If we’re going to have sports betting, we need to be all in,” Verrengia said on the CTScoreboard Podcast in early February. “And that certainly includes mobile.”
Another key change to the landscape since last year is that Connecticut has a new governor. In 2018, then-Governor Dannel Malloy was opposed to sports betting, but jumped in toward the end of the legislative session to try to broker a deal between the state and the tribes, and even went so far as to offer a special session, but that didn’t happen. New Governor Ned Lamont supports sports betting, though he stopped short of including revenue from it in his budget.
According to the Boston Globe, Lamont identified during his state of the state address earlier this week that sports betting — as well as recreational marijuana sales — as two key potential sources of revenue that should be legalized.
But as with other states, Connecticut’s main hurdle is finding common ground with the powerful tribes, which run the Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos. Sports betting is not clearly addressed in the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, nor in Connecticut’s current tribal-state compacts. However the tribes contended last year that they have the exclusive right to offer sports betting. Meanwhile Connecticut is also exploring the construction of several commercial casinos, in particular in Bridgeport and East Windsor.
The balancing act will be on display come Tuesday.