Connecticut House Passes Bill For Online Sportsbooks and Casinos

Written By Matthew Kredell on May 21, 2021 - Last Updated on May 24, 2021

The legislature is halfway toward approving compacts that would legalize Connecticut online sportsbooks and online casinos.

The Connecticut House voted 122-21 Thursday to approve language of gaming compacts between the state and its Mashantucket and Mohegan tribes.

House bill 6451 empowers the governor to amend the compacts with the tribes that govern gaming in the state.

“The bill we have before us tonight represents the first truly comprehensive gaming expansion to Connecticut since the 1990s,” Rep. Maria Horn said. “It expands, modernizes, and strengthens protections on gaming activity in Connecticut, some of which has been taking place in Connecticut for many years.

Horn chairs the Public Safety and Security Committee that handles gaming issues.

Details of Connecticut gaming compacts

This Connecticut gaming expansion is five years in the making. Gov. Ned Lamont reached an agreement with the tribes in March.

The compacts last 10 years with a mutual option to extend for another five years. Here are some of the key details:

  • Authorizes online sports betting through one mobile app each for the Mashantucket Pequot, Mohegan and the Connecticut Lottery.
  • Authorizes retail sports betting at Foxwoods Casino, Mohegan Sun Casino, and through the Connecticut Lottery at up to 15 retail locations. A retail location must be located in the cities of Bridgeport and Hartford.
  • Revenue share of 13.75% on sports betting revenue.
  • Sportech, which operates 14 off-track betting parlors in the state, is not specifically mentioned in the compact. However, it’s implied that the lottery will use many of its facilities for retail sports betting.
  • Permits Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan each to have an online casino site.
  • For Connecticut online casino the tribes pay 18% of revenue to the state for the first five years, increasing to 20% in year six.
  • Allows the Connecticut Lottery Corporation to offer online lottery and keno products, including the sale of draw tickets.
  • Requires the lottery to contribute $3.3 million and each tribe to contribute $500,000 toward problem gambling programs.

“I’ve heard from many people both in my district and actually throughout the legislature who are either online poker players or they like to bet on a sports game in bars with friends,” Horn said. “These are kinds of things that it is possible to participate in in a healthy way, but do it in a way that’s regulated and has significant protections. I believe that’s what we’ve done here today with this bill.”

Local college betting excluded

Horn told the floor that Connecticut will exclude betting on in-state colleges.

The one exception is betting on a team, such as UConn, to win a tournament, such as the NCAA Tournament.

Betting on college sports in other states will be allowed. As passed by committee, the package of gaming bills did permit betting on local colleges.

However, some members voiced opposition and Horn said then that it was an oversight she intended to correct.

Not everyone was for compact passage

Most opposition on the committee floor came from representatives in and around the area of East Windsor.

In 2017, lawmakers approved a joint tribal venture to build a casino in East Windsor. The project faced federal and legal hurdles, including opposition from MGM Resorts.

Lamont was a vocal proponent of ending the project. And he got his wish in the compacts. Both tribes agreed not to do any further work toward opening a third casino in East Windsor for the length of the compacts.

Rep. Craig Fisbbein voted no because he believes Connecticut should put sports betting licenses up for bid in a competitive market.

“For our state to create a license and then say to a select group of people you are the only ones that can apply for that, that’s a violation of the equal protection clause,” Fishbein said. “Perhaps if we put this license up to bid, there’s someone willing to pay us a billion dollars for this license.”

Daily fantasy sports concerns

The compacts also authorize tribes to offer fantasy sports on Indian lands, and for companies to obtain licenses to operate fantasy sports outside Indian lands.

In 2017 passed a piece of legislation seeking to regulate and tax fantasy sports, but that bill was specifically conditioned upon amendments to the tribal compacts. Daily fantasy sports sites continued to operate in Connecticut in the interim.

As the bill approached passage, some consternation arose in the fantasy community that licensing won’t occur until Jan. 1, 2022.

A trade organization feared this could force DFS sites to pull out of the state until that date. Which would stop Connecticut residents from participating in fantasy sports this football season.

Horn seemed to indicate it will be business as usual for daily fantasy sites.

“What this legislation does is actually provide clarity as to how fantasy sports will be able to be conducted in the state of Connecticut once this framework is set into place,” Horn said. “But in the interim term, fantasy sports remain in murky legal territory.

Finishing up the Connecticut gaming compacts

The bill ratifying the compacts moves on to the House. It will then need approval of the governor.

Then the compacts can go to the Bureau of Indian Affairs at the US Department of Interior, which has 45 days for federal approval.

The legislature still has one more job to do, which is decide where the new revenue goes. Revenue allocation will be determined in S 146, which is waiting to be heard on the Senate floor.

The Office of Fiscal Analysis report estimates $83 million in additional revenue for local municipalities to fight over.

After years of threats of lawsuits and stopping tribal revenue share to the state, it appears sports betting finally is on the way to Connecticut.

“I’m excited that we’re finally here at the goal line, which we’ve used that analogy I don’t know how many times to get this over the goal line,” said Rep. Kurt Vail, who’s spent years on committee discussing the topic. “Finally people put their greed aside and found a way to get there. Most importantly, I think it’s a good thing for the people of Connecticut who will have the opportunity to do the things they can do in other states.”

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Matthew Kredell

Matthew has covered efforts to legalize and regulate online gambling since 2007. His reporting on the legalization of sports betting began in 2010 with an article for Playboy Magazine on how the NFL was pushing US money overseas by fighting the expansion of regulated sports betting. A USC journalism alum, Matt started his career as a sportswriter at the Los Angeles Daily News and has written on a variety of topics for Playboy, Men’s Journal, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and ESPN.com.

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