Connecticut will begin public discussions on gaming expansions Tuesday.
The Joint Public Safety and Security Committee scheduled an informational hearing on the present and future of gaming for 1 p.m. ET. The meeting will be live-streamed on YouTube.
Legalizing sports betting and internet casino gaming figure to be hot topics at the hearing.
Rep. Maria Horn, the new House chair of the committee, spoke with PlayCT on what to expect in Tuesday’s hearing and for gaming issues this session.
Committee leadership change could favor tribal casinos
This committee held many discussions on gaming expansions in the past couple of years.
Often times, those talks turned acrimonious between former House Chair Joe Verrengia and Connecticut’s Native American gaming tribes.
The Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes believe their agreements with the state give them exclusivity over sports betting. Verrengia disagreed and tried to push for more inclusive proposals, leading to not-so-veiled threats between the parties.
Horn’s addition to the committee is one of many indications that the tribes are making progress toward getting gaming expansions. Another is that their champion, Sen. Cathy Osten, was made vice-chair of the committee. The committee’s Senate chair, Sen. Dennis Bradley, supported Osten’s bill last year.
Here’s what Horn had to say about tribal relations:
“Gaming in Connecticut has been led by the two tribes, which have had a stable and productive partnership with Connecticut that has been good for everybody. I want to honor that with respect to the two sovereign nations. At the same time, there are constitutional challenges with the state favoring in-state businesses over other entities. We have to be careful about that. But it’s a question we have to resolve with a clear-eyed view of how productive that partnership with the tribes has been in terms of money for the state and jobs.”
Tuesday’s Connecticut hearing on gaming expansions
Tuesday’s hearing sets the stage for gaming expansion topics in the new legislative session.
The usual suspects will speak on gaming expansions they would like to see and take part in:
- Mohegan Tribal Nation
- Connecticut Lottery
- Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling
- Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation
Horn sees two steps as to how the committee will handle the topic of gaming this year. First an overview, then a hearing on Osten’s bill.
“From a process perspective, we’ll set up the issue with a broad lay of the land, then narrow on to a particular proposal so we can move ahead,” Horn said.
Horn expects committee to advance Osten’s bill
Osten introduced S 146 to give the tribes exclusivity over sports betting and online casino gaming. The bill also provides the Connecticut Lottery added opportunities in online draw games and keno.
She’s introduced similar legislation the past two years that never got much consideration in the committee. This year should be different.
Horn expects to move Osten’s bill from the committee later this session. She also wants to work with the governor’s office to make sure that bill fits with discussions the executive is having with tribal leaders.
“Sen. Osten has put a lot of work into this bill,” Horn said. “She’s been a leader on this for a long time. It’s very clearly a detailed starting point and I intend to move it ahead. But I want to make sure we’re on the same page as the governor’s office and hear what’s happening in those conversations so we’re moving together.”
Horn added that she does expect changes to the bill. She wants to make sure the legislation includes language addressing problem gambling.
Horn also expects the committee to have a serious discussion on where the revenue goes. She says not to read much into support for the bill thus far only coming from the eastern delegation that typically supports the tribes.
“A lot of people want to see where the money goes,” Horn said. “Funds from economic development will go to local municipalities, and we have to figure that out.”
A sports betting-only bill on the way?
Osten thought her bill would be the only gaming expansion vehicle in Connecticut this session.
Horn said there could be another.
Last year, Gov. Ned LaMont pushed for legislation limited to sports betting. However, this year, he spoke of coming around to doing online casino. He sees added importance in doing internet gaming after the pandemic. Horn agrees:
“We’re hoping the pandemic will soon be in the rearview mirror but parts of it are here to stay. I think people using their phones for more services is one of them. So I think the ability to do casino gaming on your phone will be of increasing interest to people, and possibly stabilize the casino business that has faced challenges.”
However, she wants to provide a legislative option focused on sports betting in case internet gaming proves too difficult to do.
“I would like to see both get done, but I think there’s more constituent pressure to do sports betting than iGaming,” Horn said. “I live in the rural northwest corner of the state. In terms of emails I get on this issue, all have been about why they have to go to New Jersey to place bets on their teams. Internet gaming of course is the bigger economic issue, which I think will drive economic development conversations.”