One online poker possibility for Connecticut would be a hybrid of the Mohegan brand, FanDuel platform and PokerStars software

Connecticut Online Gambling Goes Live In Two Weeks, But What About Poker?

After many years of political gridlock, Connecticut finally found its path to legalizing sports betting this year.

The good news for online poker players and other gamblers is that iGaming came along for the ride. In fact, it proved to be the bargaining chip the Governor’s Office needed to persuade the tribes to let the state lottery operate a sportsbook.

Theoretically, this includes the possibility of Connecticut online poker. In practice, however, Nutmeggers shouldn’t expect it to happen right away, and it may not happen at all.

The state has said it expects to be ready for a synchronized sports betting and online casino launch on Oct. 7. Based on phrasing, this seems more like a target date than a firm promise. At this stage of the process, however, and with so few products to test and license, any delays are likely to be short.

Sports betting is all the rage in the US these days, and so there’s no shortage of coverage on what to expect from Connecticut sportsbooks. Some of that coverage includes talk about online casinos, some doesn’t. Poker is almost always left out of the conversation, however.

To try to rectify that, here is our explainer on what you can – and can’t – expect for online poker in Connecticut.

How Connecticut gambling expansion is structured

Although Connecticut has legalized all the major gambling verticals, it has done so in a limited way.

As is the case in Michigan and West Virginia, online poker isn’t considered distinct from online casino in Connecticut. Both are distinct from sports betting, but lumped together under the umbrella of “online gaming.”

That said, the regulatory rules drafted by the Department of Consumer Protection treat online poker as being part of the same sub-category of online gaming as live dealer casino games. It considers both to be a form of “simulcasting,” since multiple geographically separated players are wagering on the same game. This has important ramifications we’ll get to later.

The only entities that will be able to offer online gaming legally in the state are the two tribes. Unlike most online gambling states, Connecticut will allow only a single brand for each:

  • The Mashantucket Pequot own and operate Foxwoods Resort Casino, and have partnered with DraftKings for iGaming and sports betting.
  • The Mohegan Tribe owns and operates Mohegan Sun, and has chosen FanDuel as its partner. However, it has its own online division, Mohegan Digital, and may end up using its own brand for online gambling, with FanDuel merely providing the technology.

Each of these will also have a sportsbook under the same brand. There will also be one additional sportsbook in the state:

  • The Connecticut Lottery will engage in sports betting through a partnership with Rush Street Interactive, using the PlaySugarHouse brand.

The lottery will also be able to sell draw tickets online and conduct online keno, with a different partner. However, it will not be able to conduct any sort of iGaming, including online poker. Thus, DraftKings and Mohegan Sun are the only potential games in town.

Could Mohegan bring PokerStars to Connecticut?

Much of the discussion about the future of online poker in Connecticut has focused on the first of those two partnerships. Neither FanDuel nor DraftKings has a poker product of its own. However, FanDuel is owned by the British-Irish mega-conglomerate Flutter, which also recently acquired The Stars Group.

PokerStars is the market leader for online poker in Pennsylvania and Michigan. It’s also arguably the world’s most important poker brand, though recently GGPoker has been challenging for its crown internationally.

Neither Flutter nor Mohegan Digital have announced firm plans to launch a poker product in Connecticut. However, the president of Mohegan Digital has hinted that it might be a possibility in future.

In short, if it turns out that Connecticut gets exactly one online poker room, a PokerStars-powered, Mohegan-branded product would be the odds-on favorite.

However, there’s no guarantee that this will happen. A standalone poker room would probably not be economically viable. Cross-sell is king in the online gambling space, which means integrated apps. PokerStars is an entirely separate product from FanDuel, so their account management systems are presumably not compatible. Only Flutter’s software engineers know how difficult it would be to convert PokerStars technology for use on a FanDuel-based platform.

Almost nothing is impossible in tech. It’s just a matter of how much work it would take, and whether the small Connecticut market is worth it. Making sure the resulting hybrid would be compatible with other PokerStars products in the event of interstate liquidity sharing would be a further challenge.

Is DraftKings working on a poker product?

At first glance, the DraftKings-Foxwoods partnership seems far less likely to produce an online poker room for Connecticut. DraftKings does not currently offer poker anywhere, and the Mashantucket Pequot do not have their own online gambling company as the Mohegan do.

However, rumors have been circulating in the past year that DraftKings might be working on a poker product, or considering doing so. One bit of evidence for this theory turns up if you do a Google search for draftkings poker.

This products a result for an online poker page on DraftKings’ site, with preview text that begins:

The leader in sports entertainment tech isn’t bluffing. Go all in with Poker on DraftKings. Burn ’em and turn ’em.

However, clicking the link results in a 404 error, since the page itself doesn’t exist, or isn’t accessible to regular visitors. In other words, DraftKings seems to be squatting on the search result in case it needs such a page in future.

It’s perhaps less likely that DraftKings will develop a new poker product in house, and more likely that it will attempt to acquire an existing one. At the moment, it’s in talks to try to buy Entain, which owns Partypoker. However, if that deal goes through it’s unclear what will happen with BetMGM, which is a joint venture between Entain and MGM Resorts International. BetMGM is one of DraftKings’ most important rivals, and already uses Partypoker software for its own product.

At this juncture, the possibility of a Partypoker-powered DraftKings poker product is one for corporate lawyers to puzzle over. It would also have the same problem as the PokerStars-FanDuel hybrid, namely the need to reconcile two different platforms to make an integrated app.

The interstate issue

Further complicating the issue is the state’s small population. With only about 3.5 million people, Connecticut is smaller than any other currently existing standalone poker market. Only Nevada is comparable in size, but its only online poker room, WSOP, shares traffic with New Jersey and Delaware.

There was a time when New Jersey wasn’t in the mix, and Delaware’s contribution to traffic is minimal. However, Nevada is the gambling capital of the US and therefore punches far above its weight. It’s not entirely clear whether 3.5 million is enough people to keep games running at a hypothetical Connecticut online poker room.

We have seen that West Virginia has failed to attract any poker operators, despite it being legal for them to operate there. However, it has only half the population of Connecticut, leaving the Nutmeg State in an untested middleground which could go either way.

This is where it becomes relevant that Connecticut treats online poker as “simulcasting” and equivalent to live dealer games. The rules for such games specify that simulcasting from out of state servers is only allowed until March 2022. After this, all servers have to be in-state. This is a temporary measure to allow live dealer gaming to begin immediately and provide time for Evolution Gaming or some other company to construct a live dealer studio in Connecticut.

A representative for the Department of Consumer Protection clarified these rules as they relate to live dealer games. She did not respond to a direct inquiry about whether Connecticut might join an interstate poker compact later on.

The only good news here is that the current rules are emergency rules. This allowed them to get faster approval, but also means they’re temporary. Connecticut poker players can therefore still hope that the final rules contain provisions for interstate poker.

Nothing guaranteed, except for a long wait

Sadly, the long and short of this is that Connecticut poker players will just have to wait and see. Despite being legal, there’s no guarantee that online poker will come to the state at all.

If it does arrive, it will consist of one poker room or at most two. If an operator finds it economically viable to launch without shared liquidity, it will be a very small room. There probably won’t be any games running except low and mid-stakes No-Limit Hold’em and Pot-Limit Omaha. Multi-table tournaments will be small and have unimpressive guarantees.

Shared liquidity would be a massive boon, but depends on the state’s willingness to allow it. It would also add many months, maybe even years to the timeline to get poker off the ground.

What Connecticut poker players can do in the meantime is make their voices heard. Write to the Governor’s Office and the Department of Consumer Protection to let them know what legal online poker would mean for you, and why interstate traffic sharing is so important.

- Alex is a journalist from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada. Now site runner for OnlinePokerReport, he has been writing about poker and the online gambling industry in various capacities since 2014.
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