The passage of expanded gambling legislation and the amendment of tribal-state compacts earlier this year means Connecticut residents will soon have increased gambling options, both in the state’s casinos and online. The state still needs to clear a few more hurdles, including receiving federal approval of the new compacts. Chances are good those new options will start to surface by the fall.
Sports betting and online casinos have understandably earned most of the attention thus far. Meanwhile, poker players in Connecticut may be wondering when the first online poker rooms might open in the state — or if they will at all.
Poker is, of course, hugely popular at Connecticut’s two big casinos, the Foxwoods Resort Casino (operated by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation) and Mohegan Sun (operated by the Mohegan Tribe). The new law and amended compacts permit the two federally recognized tribes to offer online poker among other gambling games.
Could either or both tribes open online poker rooms soon? If so, when? And which sites might be the ones doing the virtual dealing?
Possible online poker sites in Connecticut
For many years Delaware, New Jersey, and Nevada were the only US states with legal online poker rooms operating. In 2019, Pennsylvania opened its first online poker room and Michigan launched its first rooms earlier this year. West Virginia has also legalized online poker, though no rooms have opened in West Virginia as yet.
Last month, the deadline passed for the US Department of Justice to appeal a ruling against its own most recent interpretation of the Wire Act as applying to types of online gambling other than sports betting. That decision has prompted some observers to speculate enthusiastically about the increased possibility of multi-state agreements enabling different states with legal online poker to share their player pools. Some believe that possibility might encourage more states to introduce online poker, particularly ones like Connecticut where online gambling has already been legalized.
Looking at it from the sites’ point of view, a new state like Connecticut with its 3.6 million-plus residents (less than Pennsylvania or Michigan, but more than Nevada, Delaware, and West Virginia) could be attractive. That said, once one room opens in Connecticut that could make it less attractive for others. That could particularly be true if the first room gets off to a strong start recruiting and retaining players.
It is possible that no online poker site will be especially eager to try to market a site in Connecticut. While the prospect of increased liquidity from multi-state shared player pools is enticing, it will require cooperation from regulators in multiple states as well, which may well take considerable time to coordinate.
When contemplating which online poker operators might find their way into Connecticut, it makes sense to consider which ones are already live somewhere else in the US.
After launching its first post-Black Friday site in the US in New Jersey in 2016, PokerStars has since shown a keen interest to expand in the US. They were the first site to launch in Pennsylvania in late 2019, enjoying a year-and-a-half monopoly there until BetMGM Poker and Borgata Poker both opened in late April 2021. PokerStars was also the first site to launch in Michigan in late January 2021. That gave PokerStars a two-month head start on BetMGM Poker’s launch in March.
In both Pennsylvania and Michigan, PokerStars benefitted from being the first site to go live, with the new sites not yet providing a great deal of competition in either case.
PokerStars already partners with Mohegan Gaming and Entertainment (MGE) for its New Jersey site. Prior to PokerStars launched in NJ, MGE became the operating license holder of the Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City in 2021. Resorts serves as PokerStars’ land-based partner in NJ.
The Mohegans currently partner with FanDuel for daily fantasy sports. Last week the tribe amended a previously-held agreement with the Kambi Group to allow the tribe to seek a different partner for sports betting. That news yielded speculation that the tribe might expand their agreement with FanDuel. In 2019, FanDuel’s owner Flutter Entertainment PLC acquired PokerStars, and there have been some FanDuel-branded events on PokerStars’ American sites.
That said, nothing is certain regarding either the Mohegan Tribe’s potential online poker plans or PokerStars’ means of entry into Connecticut.
Incidentally, the Mashantucket Pequot tribe has already partnered with DraftKings for sports betting going forward. DraftKings operates online casinos and online sportsbooks in other states. However, they operate no online poker rooms. That means the tribe will likely partner with someone else should it choose to pursue online poker.
Both 888poker and WSOP.com are active in the US. The two sites have partnered in both New Jersey and Nevada to offer online poker. They have also just announced intentions to launch a new site in Pennsylvania on July 12. 888poker also operates in Delaware.
888 and WSOP are the only online poker sites to offer a multi-state network. Their network currently allows players in Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware to play against one another. For WSOP-branded events like the current WSOP bracelet events happening this summer, only players from NJ and NV can participate.
888/WSOP will certainly wish to explore adding Pennsylvania to its multi-state network. If they were to launch in Connecticut, that would likely be a priority there as well. Should 888/WSOP add Pennsylvania to their existing multi-state network, adding Connecticut could expand that player pool even further.
As noted, BetMGM Poker has recently launched in both Michigan and Pennsylvania. In Pennsylvania, BetMGM Poker and Borgata Poker share a player pool as part of the partypoker US network. That arrangement is similar to the one in New Jersey. In NJ three sites operate as the partypoker US network: BetMGM Poker, Borgata Poker, and partypoker NJ.
The existence of these in-state networks certainly indicates the potential to open up and create a multi-state network. In any case, partypoker US network sites in Pennsylvania and New Jersey are presently ring-fenced with no player sharing between states.
MGM Resorts International has had an interesting relationship with Connecticut over recent years. MGM Springfield opened just over the border in Massachusetts in 2018. Both before and after that opening, the two Connecticut tribes seriously entertained opening a third Connecticut casino in East Windsor, also not far from the Connecticut-Massachusetts line. In response, MGM unsuccessfully pursued a casino project in Bridgeport, CT.
All of those plans seem to have been tabled for now. MGM appears to have set aside its Bridgeport idea. Meanwhile, the tribes’ new compact includes an agreement not to consider building a casino in East Windsor for 10 years. In fact, MGM recently dropped a lawsuit against the state originally filed in response to being shut out of Connecticut in favor of the tribes.
MGM would have to partner with one of the tribes in order to launch BetMGM Poker in the state. That might seem unlikely, given the previous antagonism between the parties. That said, MGM dropping its lawsuit against Connecticut clears the air somewhat should MGM decide to enter the state in some capacity, either through online poker or via other verticals like sports betting or online casino.
Smaller online poker sites unlikely to launch
Other online poker operators seem much less likely than these to launch rooms in Connecticut. None of the smaller online poker sites that have tried to operate in other states have been successful. Indeed, even larger ones have struggled at times thanks in large part to limited player pools.
If online poker comes to Connecticut, the list of potential sites is short and relatively clear. Whether any of those sites will want to launch in Connecticut — either sooner or later — remains much less certain.