Connecticut lawmakers seem to have had enough of dilly-dallying around and last week unveiled a draft of sweeping gaming expansion that includes legal sports betting. A bi-partisan group of lawmakers led by Democratic Senators Cathy Osten and Saud Anwar unveiled a 41-page draft bill called “An Act Concerning Jobs In and Revenue From the Gaming Industry,” that would not only legalize state-wide mobile and retail sports betting, but would also allow for online casino gambling, and iKeno. The draft also includes a new casino in Bridgeport, and three “entertainment zones” in Hartford, New Haven, and a site to be determined.
The bill is essentially a tribal gaming bill in that only the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes, each of which already own a casino in Connecticut, would partner on a new East Windsor casino. The bill allows for the tribes to also partner up in Bridgeport, though MGM Resorts wants a shot at a Bridgeport casino, according to the Hartford Courant.
“MGM continues to be interested in opportunities in Connecticut and we strongly believe that the best path for Connecticut, whether in establishing sports betting or moving ahead with a third casino in the state, is an open, competitive process,” an MGM spokesperson told the Courant. “MGM will also continue to pursue all legal options, including litigation, to defend our right to compete in Connecticut. ”
Tribes would pay an additional $88 million
A key change in the latest bill is the $88 million that the tribes will agree to give local cities and municipalities as part of the gaming expansion. The tribes currently distribute $51 million a year across all of Connecticut’s towns, and that number would go up to $139 million. The proposal also calls for 10% of gross gaming revenue to be earmarked for the state’s tourism fund.
“Today, we are talking about a win-win strategy,” Anwar said according to Connecticut Senate Democrats press release. “If you look at the details, everyone wins. Not only will we have significant new investments in East Windsor and Bridgeport, but we have jobs for the people who will build these places.”
— CT Senate Democrats (@CTSenateDems) January 29, 2020
Connecticut politicians and the tribes have been haggling over sports betting since before the Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in May 2018. That year, then-Governor Dannel Malloy tried to force politicians’ hands by setting a deadline to act and suggesting a special session to consider sports betting, but there was no consensus. Last year, the Connecticut General Assembly held multiple marathon, contentious hearings that accomplished little, and the session closed again without legal sports betting.
Connecticut initially looked like it would be a first mover on sports betting in New England. As the state with the most mature gaming market — Foxwoods opened its casino in 1992 and Mohegan Sun in 1996 — and its proximity to New York, it seemed a slam dunk that the Nutmeg State would legalize sports betting. But Rhode Island became the first in the summer of 2018, and New Hampshire legalized a year later, meaning Connecticut has now fallen behind.
Tribes, governor appear close to agreement
The new draft bill calls for LaMont to renegotiate tribal pacts by Oct. 1 of this this year. So far, the only state with significant tribal gaming interests to legalize is Michigan, which did so in December 2019. The new law there also sets a deadline for renegotiating some tribal pacts, though the number of tribes is significantly higher than two.
LaMont has reportedly been in talks with the tribes for months, and both sides have publicly said they felt they were moving forward. According to the Courant, James Gessner Jr., chairman of the Mohegan tribe, said he was “very optimistic” about the talks, but also said that Connecticut has “fallen behind and it’s time to modernize.”
The General Assembly opens on Feb. 5.