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In the words of the Internet, “at least you tried Connecticut.”
The Connecticut 2018 legislative session ended at the stroke of midnight on Wednesday without any action on a number of proposed gaming expansions ranging from sports betting to online lottery. The legislature’s failure to act means the gaming proposals turned back into pumpkins until lawmakers reconvene next year.
Connecticut did its best imitation of Pennsylvania when the legislature started discussing daily fantasy sports, sports betting, online lottery, online casino and poker, and even land-based casino expansion in rapid succession.
Hopes were raised when both of the state’s gaming tribes, the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan, unequivocally supported the legalization of sports betting and online gambling earlier this year.
Seth Young, Foxwoods’ executive director of online gaming, made it crystal clear where the tribe stands on these issues in written testimony submitted earlier this year.
“I am here to express the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation’s support for legal sports gambling – both on-reservation and online – and more broadly, for regulated online gambling,” said Young.
Mohegan Sun echoed the same sentiments in its written testimony.
“To clarify, I believe that the state of Connecticut will benefit from both online casino gaming and sport wagering as it will reduce unregulated bets that are done locally and off-shore, and increase state revenues,” said Avi Alroy, the vice president of interactive gaming for Mohegan Sun.
First, the state decided to push online gaming off to the side, despite the tribes’ assertions that it was the better opportunity for all involved.
In his written testimony, Young wrote:
“As we see it, the strongest opportunity for the state is in legalizing statewide iGaming, another activity that is currently operating for Connecticut residents in the black market today.
“With this in mind, we submit that iGaming is a valuable asset that can be leveraged, with the potential ancillary benefit of increasing slot revenue to the state.”
And then sports betting experienced its own turbulence, culminating with Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen asserting that tribes wouldn’t have exclusive rights to sports betting in the state:
“Moreover, 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 MOUs to offer it … 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. Id. The exclusion of sports betting from the specific list of authorized games is compelling evidence that the Compacts do not presently authorize it …”
“Amendments to the Compacts would be necessary to authorize the Tribe’s sports betting … Thus, our opinion is that the Compacts do not presently authorize the Tribes to conduct sports betting on their reservations. Nor are we aware of any other federal or state law that would be a basis for the Tribes to assert an exclusive right over sports betting.”
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The good news is the conversation has been initiated, gaming interests are on the same page, and lawmakers will return in 2019 with a stronger understanding of the issues.
The bad news is expansions of gaming, particularly US online gambling and sports betting, have proven tricky in states with tribal casinos.
Compacts would need to be adjusted, which not only means negotiations after a law is passed, it also requires the involvement of the Department of Interior, an agency that has frustrated tribes in multiple states in recent years, including Connecticut.
In effect, a state like Connecticut would have to pass a law and then come to terms with the tribes. That requires a level of trust from both sides that simply doesn’t exist at this time.