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Connecticut is a prime contender to be the next state to legalize iGaming. Along with Illinois, it tops the list of states that seem all but certain to pass such a bill in 2021.
Sentiment in the state, from both the voting public and their elected leaders, is generally liberal on gambling. For many years, however, the process has been held up by disputes over who will have access to the new market.
Now, through an agreement between the Governor’s Office and the state’s two tribes, that hurdle has been cleared. The tribes, which have exclusivity over casino gaming in the state, agreed to share sports betting rights with the state lottery. In return, they will receive permission to expand their casino duopoly into the online space.
There are still many legislative and regulatory steps remaining. However, the political will is there, so with the one major obstacle out of the way, it should be full steam ahead for the Nutmeg State.
Here is how things have been shaping up for Connecticut online gambling this year. Updates are presented in reverse chronological order, i.e. with the most recent events first.
The Senate bill advanced from the Office of Legislative Research and Office of Fiscal Analysis with a favorable recommendation. It has now been placed on the Senate calendar for a vote.
A second iGaming bill, this one in the Senate, has advanced to the Office of Legislative Research and Office of Fiscal Analysis. This one, SB570, contains much more detail than the House bill. It originally specifies that the tribes would get four skins apiece for both sports betting and online casino. However, that got changed to one apiece to agree with the Governor’s agreement with the tribes.
Unfortunately, the bill also put the construction of a Bridgeport casino resort back on the table and that aspect remains in place. If this bill were to advance, it would mean the re-involvement of MGM Resorts International, which intends to fight such a project in federal court.
The Mashantucket Pequot Tribe has managed to reach agreement with the Governor’s office. The compromise the two sides settled on was an 18% tax rate on iGaming for the first five years, followed by the state’s originally proposed 20% for the next five.
Now all the relevant parties are in agreement, there should be little to impede the bill’s progress.
The Mohegan Tribe has agreed to terms with the Governor, but the Mashantucket Pequot are still holding out for a better deal. The agreement states that the tribes will get to conduct retail and online sports betting plus iGaming, while the state will get to operate a single online sports betting skin, up to 15 retail sportsbooks. The lottery will also get to sell online draw tickets and online Keno, but no other instant games.
The issue for the Mashantucket Pequot is the iGaming tax rate. 13.75% for sports betting is fine, but they say 20% for iGaming is too high and would like to see a rate of 18% instead. Negotiations continue.
A skeleton of an iGaming bill is in the legislature. SB 146 contains provisions for both online casino and sports betting, but little in the way of detail. That’s because the Governor’s office is in direct negotiations with the state’s two tribes and their agreement, should they reach one, will form the basis for what goes in the final bill.
It appears that Connecticut’s online casino market will be limited to two brands, and that neither of these can be one of the tribes’ brands. Indeed, the tribes cannot use online gambling to promote their land-based casinos in any way outside of tribal lands. The intent seems to be to avoid legal challenges from retail casino brands attempting to make their way into the state.
Connecticut has a population of about 3.5 million. Based on how things have shaped up in other iGaming states, it could probably only support about four brands even if each tribe could partner with multiple skins. Even so, two brands will make for a very sparse market.
The question now is which brands we’ll see. Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation is already spoken for. They and their casino, Foxwoods, signed a market access deal with DraftKings for online sports betting. It stands to reason that they would stick with the same company for online casino as well.
That would leave the Mohegan Tribe as the only available partner, which could lead to some stiff competition. On paper, the most likely company to land that spot would be BetMGM, which seems on course to become the national market leader. However, MGM is the primary opponent in the battle for a third tribal casino, and that conflict may rule out a partnership.
If not BetMGM, then it the answer will almost certainly be Flutter. It owns multiple brands, including PokerStars and Fox Bet, but would probably elect to go with FanDuel for both sports betting and casino.
Land-based partner: Foxwoods
Launch date: TBD
DraftKings is the only brand we can be sure will arrive in Connecticut at this time. It already offers its daily fantasy sports product in the state, and has secured a deal with Foxwoods well in advance of iGaming being legalized.
Despite its origins in the DFS space, DraftKings has been very successful in branching out into new forms of gambling. It’s a top-three operator for both sports betting and casino, and may be considering branching out into online poker as well.
One unique aspect of the DraftKings Casino platform is that it develops its own games in house. Although you’ll find slots titles from third-party developers, most of DraftKings’ table games are customized products with a look and feel you won’t find elsewhere. Sports themes are common among these games, though you’ll find other variations as well, such as a blackjack game styled to resemble a 1980’s video arcade.
Land-based partner: None as yet
Launch date: Speculative
FanDuel would be one possible second online casino in the state.
Like DraftKings, FanDuel began its life as a daily fantasy sports company, but has emerged as a contender for market leadership in other verticals as well. It doesn’t have a poker product of its own, but exists under the same roof as PokerStars, which might allow the latter to enter the Connecticut online poker market through the same partnership.
FanDuel Casino is known for having good software. Its casino welcome bonus functions differently than most sites. Instead of a deposit match or free cash on signup, you’ll get 24 hours of risk-free play, up to a maximum loss of $200. In other words, you can try to run your initial deposit up as high as you like in that first day, and if you come out behind instead, FanDuel will cover your losses up to $200.
Land-based partner: None as yet
Launch date: Speculative
BetMGM is the market leader for online casino in Michigan and New Jersey. Its delayed start in Pennsylvania has so far held it back from the top spot nationally, but it has the potential to be number one in any state it enters.
The online brand is a joint venture between MGM Resorts International and Entain. MGM’s retail casinos and hotels are extremely luxurious, and BetMGM likewise markets itself as a luxury brand in the online casino space. Its bonuses and M Rewards Loyalty program are both calibrated towards higher-spending players. The latter is shared with MGM’s retail casinos and allows players to earn rewards like hotel stays and restaurant meals, rather than just cash bonuses.
Whatever operators ultimately launch in Connecticut, it’s a given that all of them will come with mobile casino apps. These days, running an online casino without catering to mobile device users isn’t even an option. Some operators do go the opposite route, however, preferring to make their product mobile-only and leaving desktop users out in the cold.
The norm, however, is to offer both a mobile app and a web-based casino that can be used in any browser after installing a geolocation plugin.
Likewise, you can expect there to be both an iOS and an Android version of every app.
Sometimes, there will be a delay in the launch of an iOS app, due to Apple’s stringent requirements. This isn’t as much of a problem now as it was a year ago, however, as operators have adjusted to the new rules.
Downloading casino apps for Android is also easier than ever, thanks to a change in Google’s policies. It was once the case that you’d have to change your security settings to download these directly from the operator’s website. Now, however, Google allows gambling apps in the Play Store, so getting them onto your device is no different from grabbing any other kind of app.
Connecticut’s online casinos should include mostly the same array of games you’ll find in any other legal iGaming state. There will definitely be slots, table games and video poker, at least. Live dealer games are a bit more of a question, due to Connecticut’s low population.
The majority of online casinos focus on slots for the same reason as retail casinos: They’re popular with players and big revenue generators for the operator.
Most of the slots you’ll find online are video slots. These multi-reel games are fully digital even when played on a physical machine in a retail casino. That means there’s very little effort required by the developer to adapt them to online play.
You will also find adaptations of mechanical-reel stepper slots at some online casinos. Everi is a major manufacturer of these, and takes pains to make the digital versions as faithful to the originals as possible.
Some online slots include progressive jackpots, which can make for some very big prizes indeed, often in the millions of dollars.
There are two table games you’re essentially guaranteed to find at any online casino: Blackjack and Roulette. Most casinos will offer several versions of each. DraftKings in particular is known for its creativity with these games, as it develops its own titles in house, many of which feature sports themes.
Other games you’ll find at most but not all online casinos include Keno, Baccarat and various casino poker games like Three-Card Poker or Ultimate Texas Hold’em. The deal Connecticut has struck with the tribes allows for the lottery to offer online Keno, which may make it less appealing for the casinos to do so.
Far less common is online craps. Players request it frequently, but it just doesn’t translate as well online as some other games. Relatively few online casinos offer it.
Video poker falls somewhere in between slots and table games, but most online casinos lump it in with the latter. You’ll usually find a few options available, most of them resembling the various Game King machines you’ll find in Las Vegas bars and casinos. These include single- and multi-hand versions, Deuces Wild, Double Bonus, etc.
Be sure to study the strategy for your chosen video poker variant before playing. Video poker offers some of the lowest house edges available if played correctly, but bad decisions can be costly.
Live dealer games bridge the gap between retail and online play. Rather than relying on a random-number generator, the game’s outcome is based on the deal of real cards or spin of a real wheel, by a flesh-and-blood casino dealer. The game takes place in a live streaming studio, so you can see all the action just as if you were at a real casino table. In most cases, you can even interact with the dealer and potentially other players through live chat.
Such games have proven very popular in New Jersey, and recently became available in Pennsylvania as well. However, it’s a big question whether they’ll come to Connecticut.
The problem is that building a live dealer studio is expensive and there’s really only one company doing it in the US at the moment: Evolution Gaming. They probably won’t consider Connecticut a big enough market to bother. The good news, however, is that it looks as if the Wire Act legal battle is over, or will be soon. That means that interstate transmission of gambling-related data isn’t illegal, as long as it’s not for purposes of sports betting.
It would require special permission from the regulator, but in theory this means that Connecticut online casinos could stream live dealer games from Evolution’s studios in other states.
The further gambling expansion in the US advances, the easier payment processing gets. Whereas getting money onto and off of sites was once a bit of a chore, there are now a wide range of options. Whatever your situation, you’ll find one that works well for you.
The exact methods available vary from state to state and site to site. However, you’ll probably find most or all of the following:
Withdrawals usually work similarly, but some methods are only available for deposit. For instance, you won’t be able to withdraw to your credit card, so if you’ve chosen that method to deposit you’ll need another way to cash out. Fortunately, there’s always the option to receive a check in the mail, though this is the slowest of all withdrawal methods.
There’s usually also the option to carry out either type of transaction at the casino cage of the corresponding retail casino. In Connecticut, that will mean either Mohegan Sun or Foxwoods, depending on which online brand you choose.
So far in the US, it has generally been the case that operators offer the same promotions in every state. There might be some variation in terms of temporary promotions, but for things like no deposit sign up bonuses and first deposit bonuses, what you see in other states is probably what you’ll see in Connecticut.
Thus, if you want to know what bonuses DraftKings or FanDuel are likely to offer new customers, check out their review pages.
Here are the types of promotion you’ll likely find at most sites:
The term “welcome bonus” actually describes several sorts of bonus for new players. Almost every site offers at least one. It’s also quite common to find two, in the form of a no deposit bonus paired with some other bonus that requires a deposit.
No deposit bonuses are a small reward you’ll get just for signing up. Typical amounts range from $20 to $50. The bonus could come in the form of credit for specific games, or bonus cash that can be used as you wish. Either way, you’ll usually have to bet with your bonus in some fashion. It’s much more rare to receive truly strings-free cash that you could simply withdraw immediately if you chose.
Other common components of a welcome package include first deposit bonuses or risk-free play. With the former, the site will match your first deposit’s dollar amount in the form of bonus credit. You’ll typically need to meet some play through requirement to convert that into cash. Risk-free play is less common, but found at FanDuel Casino for instance. With that sort of welcome offer, you’ll have a certain period – usually 24 hours – during which your losses are covered up to a certain amount. Come out in the red after that time, and the site will reimburse you with bonus credit, up to the amount you lost.
Most, but not all sites also have a system in place to reward frequent play. The usual way this works is that playing casino games earns you points. Those points can then be spent in a rewards store for things like bonus credit, strings-free cash, or other items.
Most such programs also have a leveling up mechanic, where earning points moves you to higher statuses. These, in turn, convey various benefits, including the ability to earn points even faster.
In the case of operators that also have a chain of retail casinos, the rewards programs are usually linked. Thus, you can combine points earned through both channels, and often from other product types like the sportsbook. In those cases, the sorts of rewards you can claim often include hotel stays, restaurant meals and other perks at the company’s casinos.
The welcome package and loyalty program are usually the big selling points for most sites. However, many operators will sprinkle in other sorts of promotions as well, often on a limited time basis. These include things such as refer-a-friend bonuses, reload offers, games of the day, weekly missions, and so forth.
Didn’t find the answer you were looking for above? Here are some other common questions about the future of online gambling in Connecticut.
It’s too early to say. There’s always a chance that no iGaming bill gets passed this year, although the odds of success look good. Even if all goes as planned, however, there’s a lengthy rule-making, licensing and testing process to go through before launch.
Typically, that process takes a year or more. However, Connecticut’s a small state with fewer moving parts than most, and everyone seems eager to get online casinos up and running. The most probable timeline, then, would be a launch probably towards the middle of 2022 or slightly earlier.
If there is only one skin allowed per casino operator, as is looking like it will be the case, then the answer will be two. If not for that restriction, then the state could probably support up to four.
That will become clear once a final iGaming bill emerges, but the most likely scenario is that it will be regulated by the Connecticut Lottery. That’s the usual solution for states that lack a commercial (non-tribal) casino industry. It’s possible that the state could decide to establish a new regulatory body, however.
The state’s two tribes – the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan – have exclusive rights to casino gaming. Each will be able to take on one online partner.
Like most states, the legal gambling age in Connecticut is 21. There’s no reason to believe it will be any different for online gambling.
As with other states, the rule for playing casino games online in CT will be that you do not have to be a state resident, but you must be physically located within the state’s borders to play. Geolocation technology built into the apps will guarantee this.
Usual exclusions will apply. For instance, you can’t play at an online casino if you work there, or if you’ve been banned from the associated land-based casino. Players concerned with their gambling habits can also request self-exclusion.
The state will tax online casino revenue at 18% for the first five years. After this, it will go up to 20% for the next five, at which point the state and tribes can renegotiate.
The same agreement between the Governor and tribes will also allow both retail and online sports betting in CT. Unlike online casino gaming, this will be shared with the state lottery.
The lottery will also be allowed to sell draw tickets and offer instant Keno online, but not e-Instants, which bear too much resemblance to casino games.
Although it hasn’t been made explicit, the iGaming agreement should also cover online poker, as something only the tribes can offer.
It’s hard to say, because there’s no other state with legal online casinos that’s close to Connecticut in size. Michigan, which is about three times larger, generates over $75 million a month, which would lead to an estimate for Connecticut of $25 million monthly, or $300 million annually.
On the other hand, West Virginia, which is half Connecticut’s size, makes less than $4 million monthly. If Connecticut looks more like than than like Michigan, then even doubling to account for population would give an estimate of only $100 million annually.
Gov. Dannel Malloy has been talking about the issue since at least 2012. Early that year, the governor told the Associated Press that he felt iGaming was inevitable in Connecticut. In the next breath, though, he called it unlikely to move forward in the near term.
“Clearly, there’s not a lot of excitement around the issue,” he subsequently told The Day. His statement came following the state’s first serious hearing on the issue, conducted by a public safety panel.
At the time, the Mohegan tribe indicated it was only interested in online poker, not other forms of iGaming. Executives expressed concerns over cannibalizing their land-based casino (which, incidentally, have been disproven in other markets). Foxwoods, on the other hand, began its pitch for a broad expansion of internet gaming.
The issue took a backseat for a couple years, though, while regional operators assessed casino expansion in neighboring states. Rather than being worried about potential iGaming cannibalization, there was new concern that competing casinos would become the problem.
Seemingly sensing the pressure, the CT tribes have ramped up their iGaming efforts during the last year.
It seemed like stakeholders were starting to align on gambling issues in 2018. At the very least, there was increasing appetite for expansion.
Early in the year, Foxwoods entered into a partnership with PariPlay, a real-money digital casino provider. It’ll begin as a land-based deal, with the tribe offering internet gaming to customers physically on site. If things break favorably in the legislature, though, online gambling could be available alongside sports betting in the future.
The tribe calls iGaming the “strongest opportunity for the state.”
Mohegan Sun, meanwhile, has already adopted real-money online gambling — not in Connecticut, where it’s illegal, but in New Jersey, where it thrives. The Mohegan tribe operates Resorts Casino in Atlantic City, along with the Mohegan Sun online casino. It also owns a property in Pennsylvania, which is preparing to launch its own iGaming industry.
The Mohegan tribe has joined Foxwoods in support of legalization in CT.
Connecticut’s legislative session expired on May 9, however, so the deadline to move on iGaming passed for the year. Discussions surrounding other forms of gaming, such as sports betting, are still actively underway behind the scenes.
Both issues are secondary to the proposed East Windsor project, though. Until that complicated situation is settled, any gambling proposals are unlikely to move forward.
State attorney general George Jepsen issued an opinion on how some forms of gambling expansion might impact tribal agreements.
Gov. Lamont’s reservations about online gambling and the success of sports betting in other states meant the latter began to take precedence. However, the tribes were adamant about getting a new retail casino out of the deal, and this got MGM Resorts International involved. That company feared cross-border competition for its property in Springfield, Massachusetts, and felt that any new Connecticut casino not on tribal land should be open for bidding, not awarded directly to the tribes.
MGM initiated a federal legal battle that more or less killed the effort.
All the problems of 2019 continued into 2020, but an added twist got thrown in due to the arrival of COVID-19.
The pandemic derailed the legislative session, and therefore any chances of a sports betting or iGaming bill getting passed that year. The tribes petitioned the governor for temporary authorization to conduct iGaming while their retail properties were shut down, but he rebuffed that request.
The silver lining in all this is that the pandemic changed minds on both sides of the table. Getting a new retail casino no longer seemed like such a priority for the tribes. Dropping that requirement took MGM’s lawsuit out of the equation. Furthermore, the loss of gambling revenue during the shutdown opened Gov. Lamont’s eyes to the value of iGaming.
That set the stage for the current 2021 effort, which has much better chances of success than previous ones.
Connecticut’s two tribes each run their own land-based casino.
Foxwoods Resort Casino is located in Mashantucket, in the southeast foothills of the state. Opened in 1992, it’s still one of the largest casinos in the world with around 345,000 square feet of gaming space and 2,250 hotel rooms. The poker room holds more than 100 tables, too, making it the largest one outside of California.
The Mohegan tribe operates Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, about ten miles west of Mashantucket. With almost 365,000 square feet of casino space, it’s even larger than Foxwoods. A mammoth property in every sense, Mohegan Sun offers more than 1,500 hotel rooms, thousands of slot machines, a 12,000-seat arena, and the largest conference space in the northeast. The property opened in 1996, employing around 10,000 people.
The Mohegan tribe has been branching out from its CT roots in recent years, too.
When Pennsylvania authorized casinos in 2006, the tribe purchased Pocono Downs Raceway for $280 million. The rebranded Mohegan Sun Pocono has since managed to carve out a comfortable spot in PA’s casino market. The tribe has also pursued expansion into New York and Massachusetts, along with a proposed project in East Windsor.
Combined, CT’s tribes generate more than $1 billion in annual slot revenue, and they return 25 percent to the state under current compacts. The numbers have been fairly flat for the last decade, though, and emerging casinos in nearby states threaten to choke off some of that revenue stream.
Mohegan Sun is already providing a case study on the benefits of iGaming elsewhere. Its NJ online casino network, including Resorts, earns about $4 million a month. Mohegan Sun Pocono will almost certainly launch a PA online casino, as well.