The Connecticut legislature took the first step Wednesday toward legalizing sports betting and online casino gambling.
The Joint Public Safety and Security Committee advanced a package of bills that represent an agreement between tribal partners and the state to expand and modernize gaming.
Recently, Gov. Ned Lamont announced the agreements with the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribal nations.
The agreements bring sports betting to the state while making a variety of gaming options available online and through mobile devices, including sports betting, casino gambling, and lottery tickets.
Gaming bills passed by committee
Here’s the package of gaming bills advanced by the committee to their respective chamber floors with joint favorable reports:
- HB 6451: The governor’s bill including the language of the agreement with the CT tribes.
- SB 146: Sen. Cathy Osten’s bill includes details of the tribal agreement while adding where the resulting revenue will go.
- SB 570: Sen. Dennis Bradley’s bill adds to Sen. Osten’s bill language bringing sports wagering facilities and a casino to Bridgeport.
- HB 6512: Provides consumer protections for sports betting.
Lamont’s bill confirms that the Mohegan, which reached an earlier agreement with the administration, will receive the more favorable terms for online gaming negotiated by the Mashantucket Pequot. This includes paying 18% of revenue to the state for the first five years, increasing to 20% in year six.
The governor’s bill passed by a vote of 20-2. Rep. Craig Fishbein voted no based on the lack of a competitive bidding process for sports betting. Rep. Carol Hall voted no because the agreement delays for a decade construction of Tribal Winds, a casino the legislature previously approved in her district.
Osten asserted that her bill would increase local municipality revenue from tribal gaming by a multiple of three. This brings the local revenues back to the level before governors started taking out money to meet state needs. It also provides money for problem gambling, a tourism marketing fund, and community college tuitions.
Rep. Rich Hayes added a no vote on SB 146. He said state revenues should go to paying down debt rather than community college tuition.
CT gambling legislation remain a work in progress
Rep. Maria Horn, the House chair of the committee, warned that all the bills remain a work in progress. The committee needed to advance them before Thursday’s deadline.
“All these bills represent our best efforts to document the agreement and also our intent for what we want to achieve going forward,” Horn said. “But I imagine they will all undergo changes going forward.”
Excluding betting on in-state colleges such as UConn seems likely to be one forthcoming change. Fishbein noted that exclusion had been in previous legislation discussed in the committee.
Horn said it was an oversight on her part not to include such language in the consumer protections bill.
“I believe this is a work in progress, particularly in respect to prohibiting betting on UConn and Connecticut-based collegiate athletics,” Horn said. “Language which, due to my own timing issues, didn’t make it into this bill. But I’m open to including it. In fact, I think it’s an important part of the bill that should be included.
Rep. Kurt Vail stated that he didn’t agree college wagering should be excluded and would argue against any attempt to do so.
Lawmakers hope to avoid lawsuits
The agreement between the state and the tribes mentions only the two gaming tribes and the Connecticut Lottery Corporation. But there is a fourth gaming entity in the state.
Sportech operates 14 off-track betting parlors across the state. Through advance-deposit wagering on horse racing, Sportech is the only Connecticut entity currently allowed to accept wagers online.
The governor’s bill doesn’t mention Sportech by name. However, it states that the lottery may operate 15 retail sports betting locations, which may be located at off-track betting parlors.
Horn said she had a conversation with the governor’s office and confirmed this means Sportech can have retail sports betting through the lottery. She asked if Sportech could also take part in online sports betting and was told Sportech could have the opportunity to partner with the lottery for its one online wagering skin.
Rep. Michael DiGionvancarlo, who has four of those facilities in his district, said he hoped the agreement could be amended to better include Sportech.
“I will be voting to move this forward but I have a big fear and a really bad feeling that all this great work may end up in court, and I believe Sportech has hinted that they’re leaning in that direction,” Rep. Michael DiGionvancarlo said. “By the time this bill gets to the final vote, I really hope that Sportech will be involved as that fourth operator.”