On Thursday, March 3, a public hearing was held at the Connecticut General Assembly to discuss Senate Bill 140. The bill proposes performing a study regarding “the effect of legalized gambling” in the state.
Problem gambling in Connecticut is a top concern
The bill was introduced by the Public Safety and Security Committee. Moreover, it’s gaining steam after the launch of both online gambling and sports betting in Connecticut this past autumn.
Gambling addiction in the state has become a particular concern for the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling (CCPG). Since legal sports betting rolled out this fall, the Council’s hotline has seen an extreme increase in calls.
In November and December, call volume to the states problem gambling hotline nearly doubled.
Study of CT gambling effects is overdue, per mandate
In a conversation with NBC Connecticut, Diana Goode, CCPG’s Executive Director recalled that this study is far past due, according to a state mandate.
“There was legislation put in place about 15 years ago,” she said. “Saying that every 10 years, we need a study in gambling, and we haven’t had one in 14 years.”
Goode expresses disappointment at such a long delay, but is also hopeful for whatever intel such a study would provide.
“It would have been great to have a before and after study,” she said. “But we’ll take anything at this point. We really think it’s important to understand what’s out there and what’s happening to people.”
The last time a gambling study was performed was in 2009. Conducted by a New Jersey-based gaming consultant, Spectrum Gaming Group, the study set the state back $685,000.
Since then, no further studies have been funded in Connecticut.
“A lot has changed in 14 years,” Goode added. “So, I think we really do need another gambling study.”
Opposers of expanded gambling support the study, as expected
Goode was among those submitting written testimony for the hearing earlier this month.
“While the CCPG does not advocate for or against gambling,” she wrote in her testimony, “We feel that it is necessary to ensure that the state has a robust gambling safety net to help those individuals and families impacted by problem gambling and to reduce harms.”
Goode also stresses the importance of “someone not in the gambling industry – a neutral party” performing the study
Senator Tony Hwang has been an opponent to the expansion of gambling in Connecticut. His concern is that widely accessible online gambling has created a widespread issue with problem gambling in CT already.
Submitting written testimony for the hearing, he points to the pandemic as a source of stress for the public. He states that the people turn to sports betting and online gambling as a “distraction.”
“Since the passage of the expanded online gambling and sports betting, every mobile phone-carrying resident is now toting a mini-casino with them around the clock,” he wrote. “I have heard stories from Connecticut residents who have the courage to open up about their gambling struggles, and they say that the emotional harm this addiction causes far outweighs the financial.”
Once a member of the Public Safety Committee, Hwang has pressed lawmakers to increase the study’s funding to $5 million.
The hope is that the in-depth study would be both “objective and academic,” according to Hwang.
Connecticut Lottery and CT Casinos also support the gambling study
Both the Connecticut Lottery Corp. (CLC) and CT casinos have also said that they support the gambling study and will help in any way possible.
The CLC’s Government Relations and Responsible Gaming Manager is Christopher Davis. He states that the Lottery is willing to assist those conducting the study. Any desirable information or data is available upon request.
The CT Lottery currently operates both in-person and online sports betting in Connecticut. The CLC is also rolling out online lottery ticket sales later this year.
Similarly, both tribal casinos in CT, Mashantucket Pequot’s Foxwoods Resort Casino and the Mohegan Sun, have also promised cooperation with the study.
Each casino operates in-person and online sportsbooks and offers online gambling.
Timeline for study’s completion could be tight
The bill mandates that the study finalize by January 1, 2023. It states that the study will be “an examination of the types of gambling activity engaged in by the public and the desirability of expanding, maintaining or reducing the amount of legalized gambling permitted in this state.”
The state’s Department of Consumer Protection (DCP) will be conducting the study. Michelle Seagull, Commissioner of the DCP, is unsure whether the timeframe is realistic.
In her written testimony, Seagull said she thinks the deadline “might not be achievable.” If the DCP does succeed in finalizing inside of the timeframe, she worries that the study will be “less robust” than desired.
“By the time money is allocated, the scope is defined, you get bids and make a selection,” she said. There could be only a couple of months left to do the study. It won’t be as thorough as if they had six or seven months.”