Connecticut Gambling Complications Could Delay Online Poker
One of the states deemed likely to seriously examine online poker and other forms of online gambling in 2019 was Connecticut. The primary reason for the optimism came from the unequivocal support of the state’s two tribes in 2018. The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and Mohegan Tribe each told lawmakers last year of the benefits of expanding gambling options to the online realm.
At that time, however, Connecticut lawmakers seemed overwhelmed by the conversation. Not only did online gambling seem complicated, sports betting was even more complex. Much of the gambling debate happened in the state legislature before the US Supreme Court overturned PASPA and opened the nation up to a new sports betting age.
The best option, at that point, was to push the debate to 2019.
Complications remain, and they may prohibit action this year for sports betting, online poker, and other forms of gambling expansion. But nothing is off the table yet.
New Year, New Bills
When 2019 rolled in, Connecticut lawmakers put several bills on the books to open discussions about various forms of gambling expansion.
The primary bill for online poker supporters to monitor was SB.17, a bipartisan piece of legislation with 12 initial sponsors and four co-sponsors.
Senators Catherine Osten, Steve Cassano
Representatives Kevin Ryan, Christine Conley, Emmett Riley, Joe de la Cruz, Susan Johnson, Kate Rotella, Larry Butler, Travis Simms, Henry Genga
Senators Heather Somers, Paul Formica
Representatives Doug Dubitsky, Mike France, Holly Cheeseman
The bill is simple in its title: “An act authorizing sports wagering, internet gambling and internet keno.” And its summary is just as straightforward:
–To provide for additional revenues and jobs from the operation of sports wagering, internet gambling, and internet keno
–To enhance the revenue to the state from agreements between the state and federally recognized Indian tribes in Connecticut
–To ensure that Connecticut’s gaming and tourism industries remain competitive with those in surrounding states
–To ensure age and physical location verification for participation in internet gaming
SB.17 was first introduced on January 11 and referred to the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Security. Within the next month, it was put on the docket for a public hearing set for February 26.
Hearing Produces Complications
The late-February hearing covered a great many topics, but the primary focus centered on gambling. The most contentious issue of the day was the actions surrounding a new commercial casino, from accepting proposals to dealing with competition for the state’s existing tribal casinos.
Today is alllllll about gambling in Connecticut. Proposed casino expansion for the tribes, proposed expansion for commercial operators like MGM, and discussion about legalizing sports betting. pic.twitter.com/MkmDkItA0p
— Max Reiss (@MaxReiss) February 26, 2019
The issues seem to be accentuated by the debate over sports betting, to which the state’s tribes want exclusive access. But the Connecticut Lottery Corporation has promoted the idea of using existing lottery sales structures to formulate a sports betting regulatory framework.
Per the Beloit Daily News, sports gambling has the potential to bring $8 million to $20 million to Connecticut’s coffers, but the details of how to share the revenue and how to allocate sports betting opportunities to tribal casinos versus other potential players in the state.
One point of agreement by most lawmakers was that the state needs new revenue, and gambling expansion will provide that. In addition, surrounding states have expanded their gambling options to such a degree that Connecticut will continue to lose money and jobs to them without expansion.
Online Poker Report noted that Anika Howard, Foxwoods VP of Brand Marketing and Digital, testified that online gambling revenue is outpacing online sports betting in some states and is “by far the biggest opportunity” for states to increase gambling revenue. And approving both allows for cross-promotional opportunities.
That's…it, then? Connecticut glossed over the conversation about online poker during a hearing on Feb. 27. https://t.co/xvYw79DcKP
— Poker Scout (@PokerScout1) March 1, 2019
The hearing of approximately 11 hours had its share of debates and disagreements, but OPR reported that online poker and casino games were the “least contentious forms of gambling expansion under consideration.” And in light of the need for revenue and jobs, “online gambling could be the clearest path to bolstering both.”
The Connecticut legislative calendar shows the session remaining open until June 5, 2019. That is more time that most states allot for bill discussions.
The most recent action taken on SB.17 was a “vote to draft” on February 28, which means a vote was taken to draft a proposed bill in full as a committee bill. While this indicates that the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Security could vote on said draft at any time, it is more likely that there will be a committee hearing on the topic to drill down the details of the final bill that would go to the floor.
Whether it will happen in early 2019 remains to be seen, but plenty of Connecticut lawmakers are ready to take the first steps to allowing Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun to reap the benefits of online gambling and sports wagering.
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