The city of Bridgeport is poised to get its first retail sportsbook now that Connecticut sports betting is legal.
So far, three prominent locations are being considered as potential sites according to Andrew Walter, Connecticut Lottery’s director of business and legal affairs for sports betting:
- The new Hartford HealthCare Amphitheater
- The Webster Bank Arena
- Steelpointe Harbor
“… Bridgeport is a requirement in the legislation so we will be going into Bridgeport,” Walter said, referring to the city’s three potential sites. “Some, like the amphitheater, are a current operational business. Some are more hypothetical in nature.”
While talks are ongoing with all three locations, Walter emphasized “we haven’t negotiated anything with any party.” The first two locations are reportedly owned and managed by the seaport city.
Contenders for the bid
Early last month, the Lottery issued a formal solicitation for sports betting retailers in the state. In time, Connecticut will have 15 locations with a physical appearance.
A partnership between the CT Lottery and Sportech has already earmarked nine of those spots. Interested parties will have to compete for the remaining six.
Sportech, an online gambling and entertainment company headquartered in the UK, owns several sites across the state. Stamford, New Haven, and Hartford are a few cities with a Winners or Bobby V’s restaurant/sports bar locations.
“One of the attractive features about the Sportech locations is they are already gambling establishments,” Walter said. “They have cashiers and appropriate security protocols for handling large amounts of cash.”
Just two months ago, DraftKings and FanDuel opened permanent sportsbooks at Foxwood Casino and Mohegan Sun, respectively. Gov. Ned Lamont attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony at both casinos which are located on tribal lands. He even placed the first ceremonial wager at Foxwood’s book.
“Today we celebrate a new era for our Mashantucket Tribal Nation, sports fans, Foxwood guests, and Connecticut residents,” said Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Chairman Rodney Butler.
He also thanked the governor and his administration who helped pave the way for legal sports betting in the state.
Foxwood’s new two-story, 12,000-plus square foot sportsbook is a place to bet, dine, game, and experience teams across professional and collegiate sports.
Among the many alluring features of the Mohegan sportsbook are a 140-foot LED video wall and 36 kiosks.
The HealthCare Amphitheater & Steelepoint Harbor
Howard Saffan, the operator of the HealthCare amphitheater, and representative for the developers of Steelepoint Harbor confirmed the Lottery’s interest in both locales.
“Obviously we’re honored to be considered,” said Saffan who built the new amphitheater out of Bridgeport’s old minor-league baseball stadium, Harbor Yard.
Webster Arena & Winners Shoreline Star
Winners Shoreline Star, an off-track horse betting facility has been looking for a buyer for the past year. Sportech ran the now-vacant establishment until Sept. of last year.
Walter told the Connecticut Post that the Lottery had no intention of reopening.
Rather, the agency’s priorities at this point were to identify partners with existing businesses or detailed plans. Walter said of the solicitation process:
“The goal is to start a conversation, not bind somebody to a contract. We want to know what is your footprint? Are you financially solvent? … And most importantly, what is your vision for this?”
Long-time tenants of the Webster Arena, Bridgeport hockey team The Islanders, declined to discuss their views.
Big plans for reviving Bridgeport
Given that Bridgeport is Connecticut’s largest municipality, Walter and CT Lottery have big plans in store for it.
“Bridgeport is a major city in the state, so we’re going to have to do something there to maximize sports betting retail sales,” explained Walter.
But having a large facility might not be in the cards for Bridgeport. City officials have tried for decades to build a large casino in town to no avail.
One man who agrees with Walter is state Representative Christopher Rosario, D-Bridgeport. He stated last December that the battle to legalize gambling in CT was long and hard-fought and that a small betting kiosk would simply not do.
In Rosario’s opinion, the goal is to make the Lottery’s Bridgeport partner “a destination point” akin to other major attractions like the amphitheater and the Webster Arena.
Thomas Gill, the city’s economic development director said his department is not involved in any of the negotiations. They do however have a vested interest in it.
“Obviously no matter where they go we want to make sure it’s a well-designed, well-suited facility,” Gill said. “We don’t want some hole-in-the-wall gambling place.”
Echoing his sentiments on the Lottery’s desire to establish a gambling destination in Bridgeport for practical financial reasons, Walter said:
“We (the Lottery) do not exist to make a profit and keep it. We exist to turn that over to the state and that is what my marching orders are for Bridgeport and other several places.”
Project outline and schedule
The Connecticut Lottery director identified three business models they were considering. Bobby V’s style entertainment destinations, other types of restaurants, and local sports bars.
Also checked out will be no-frills in-and-out retailers where fans can place a quick bet on their way home from work on a Friday before the weekend.
When asked to give a timeline for opening the Bridgeport location, Walter indicated the first part of 2022. Whether that means the first quarter or the first half of the year remains to be seen.