Connecticut sports betting favored versus online gambling

Reading The Signs: Will Connecticut Legalize Online Gambling, Sports Betting In 2019?

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This is the first part in an ongoing OPR series outlining the states most likely to pass online gambling and/or sports betting legislation in 2019. Batting leadoff: Connecticut.

From the editor: A new bill (S 17) was filed shortly after publication that would legalize online gambling, including online poker and sports betting. More to come in a separate piece.

Connecticut took a cursory look at sports betting bills in 2018, even broaching the subject of online poker and casino games during the discussion.

At the end of the day, it wasn’t meant to be. Despite some chatter about a special session, sports betting and online gambling were pushed aside for the year.

The state remains a solid contender to reconsider legislation during the new 2019 session, which began on Wednesday. Unfortunately, whatever momentum there is behind sports betting doesn’t seem to be carrying over to online gambling.

Connecticut has a good shot at legal sports betting

If lawmakers and stakeholders can hash out who’s permitted to offer it, Connecticut is a virtual lock to legalize sports betting in 2019.

A bill is already submitted that would authorize the state’s two tribal casinos — Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun — to offer sports betting within the state. It would also allow the Connecticut Lottery to offer online Keno, but it doesn’t mention online poker or online casinos.

Handing sports betting over to the tribes, however, is easier said than done.

Obstacles to CT sports betting

Virtually every aspect of the relationship between the state and tribal gaming has become complicated in Connecticut. Look no further than the stalled casino project in East Windsor for evidence.

The situation becomes even more muddled with other stakeholders in the mix. Even though the tribes dominate the gaming landscape, the state also has to consider the lottery, off-track betting parlors, and outside entities in its sports betting discussions.

That’s where problems begin to arise.

The two tribes believe they have exclusive rights to offer sports betting in Connecticut. The lottery and OTBs disagree, as does the state’s former attorney general, George Jepsen.

“Sports betting is not listed as an authorized game,” Jepsen wrote last year. “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.”

Both sides are threatening litigation, and the tribes have implied that they will cut off the 25 percent tax on slot revenue if Connecticut opens up sports betting to other entities without their permission.

Confidence not as high for online gambling

Online gambling only complicates things further.

Long considered one of the states to watch, iGaming finally entered the conversation in Connecticut in 2018. With the legislature eyeing sports betting, tribes pushed the state to tackle online casino and poker alongside the issue du jour.

The Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan both made it clear: Between sports betting and online gambling, the latter provides the better opportunity. They stressed that doing one without the other made little sense — particularly if Connecticut plans to authorize mobile wagering.

The tribes are likely to make the same case in 2019, but it’s not clear how full-throated that support will be this time. Whether or not the legislature will listen is also unclear.

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Legislature aiming for a piecemeal approach

Combining sports betting and online gambling may provide the best opportunity for the tribes, but the legislature was laser-focused on sports betting in 2018.

Based on news coming out of Hartford, there’s little reason to suspect that online gambling has moved up the priority list. The focus is once again on sports betting in 2019, and the legislature appears unlikely to combine the issues.

One person with knowledge of the situation summed it up like this:

The legislature views sports betting as a new offering in an existing gambling environment (a casino) and through the lens of consumer protections. On the other hand, it views online casino games as an expansion of gambling.

That could change if online sports betting comes up for discussion.

Even if the online wagering enters the equation, though, some fear that the legislature will compartmentalize sports betting and frame it as a consumer protection issue. Online casino and poker are in the same boat when it comes to accessing black market sites, but the legislature is treating them differently.

Unless it becomes a bargaining chip between the lottery, tribes and OTBs, Connecticut remains a long shot to legalize online gambling in 2019.

- Steve covers nearly every angle of online poker in his job as a full-time freelance poker writer. His primary focus for OPR is the developing legal and legislative picture for regulated US online poker and gambling.
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