After a premature announcement threatened to derail progress toward Connecticut gambling expansion, the path toward sports betting and online casino seems clear once more.
Rep. Maria Horn, the House chair of the joint Public Safety and Security Committee that handles gaming issues, told PlayCT that representatives of the Mashantucket Pequot and governor’s office resumed negotiations this week on the final point of an agreement to modernize gambling.
Last week, Gov. Ned Lamont announced that the administration had reached a deal with the Mohegan. That angered the state’s other tribal partner, which was still negotiating on one point.
The unexpected maneuver threatened to blow up the whole deal. However, Horn said she spoke with Mashantucket Pequot Chairman Rodney Butler on Wednesday and found out that talks were back on track.
“Fortunately, I think cooler heads prevailed on both sides,” Horn said. “I think they’re very close to getting everyone in the deal, which will be great.”
Sports betting negotiations always with the drama
A committee hearing last week continued the optimism displayed this year toward reaching an agreement.
Lamont’s chief of staff, Paul Mounds, gave the committee an update that negotiations with the tribes were close. Tribal representatives agreed.
However, later that day, the governor issued a press release about a deal reached with just the Mohegan.
“I think the hearing went really well in terms of the representatives from the tribes and the governor’s office expressing they were very optimistic but not disclosing the terms because there’s no deal if there’s not a deal with both tribes,” Horn said. “Then it went off the rails a little bit after, with the governor’s decision to announce the deal with one tribe.”
It appeared the governor was trying to put pressure on the Mashantucket Pequot to take the same deal as the Mohegan. But that seemed to backfire with Butler taking to local media to describe the move as an “insult.”
“It was just bad form,” said Sen. Cathy Osten, whose district includes the tribal casinos. “It’s disappointing [the governor] would act that way.”
Details of Connecticut gambling expansion revealed
The governor’s release provided bullet points for the deal with the Mohegan. Assuming the Mashantucket Pequot comes on board, the agreement looks favorable for both tribes and the state lottery.
Here are some of the key details:
- A 20% tax on online gaming revenue.
- A 13.75% tax on sports betting revenue.
- The Connecticut Lottery operating up to 15 retail sports betting locations, including in Hartford and Bridgeport, plus one online skin.
- License agreements to last 10 years with a five-year extension option.
- The CT Lottery sub-licensing some of those locations to the state-licensed pari-mutuel operator.
Compared to Osten’s S 146, which served as the tribe-supported language entering the session, the agreement increases tax rates and allows lottery participation in sports betting.
“I thought it was generous of the tribes to give up so much to the administration,” Osten said.
Horn said the committee needs to see the full language of the agreement with the tribes. But that the committee will have discussions about pari-mutuel operator Sportech’s level of participation, and how to thread the needle on honoring tribal compacts while respecting free and fair trade.
How committee will handle gambling expansion deal
Horn hopes for both tribes to have an agreement with the governor prior to the March 25 deadline for the Public Safety and Security Committee to provide a favorable report on bills. The committee is scheduled to meet March 18 and 23.
She says that, even in adopting the governor’s deal with the tribes, there’s work for the committee to do.
“The legislature is an equal partner in all of this,” Horn said. “The first sort of brick in the wall is the agreement between the governor and tribes. That’s got to slip into place in terms of the economics of the bill. I think the legislature’s role is to craft consumer protections and make any decisions on how the state spends the money.”
The committee could advance between one and three bills. If the governor reaches an agreement with both tribes, it’s likely to be amended into his placeholder bill H 6451. If a deal is only reached with one tribe, the committee might advance the governor’s bill with that language but put out its own proposal in S 146.
The committee introduced H 6512 as its first draft of consumer protections. It could advance that bill on its own or fold it into one of the others. Even if pushing forward the governor’s deal, the committee could use Osten’s bill for its allocation of revenue.
Most importantly, it seems like sports betting and online casino gambling legislation is hitting the home stretch in Connecticut.
“I’m confident there will be an agreement,” Horn said. “If we have a deal and this committee can pass that agreement, I think we can get to the finish line.”