Connecticut iGaming Progresses but Florida Omits It
As has been the case for years, a handful of American states tossed around the idea of legalizing online poker in 2021, most often alongside online casino games and/or sports betting. Most of those bills die a few months into the year with no progress.
Connecticut, however, is a different story in 2021. Native American tribes (Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan) have long wanted the opportunity to offer online poker and casino games to complement their land-based gambling revenue. But Governor Ned Lamont declined in past years due to concerns regarding MGM Resorts legal action and general perceived igaming difficulties and complications.
This year is different, though, and agreements among all parties seem to be pushing the Connecticut bill forward with approval from the Connecticut House.
In Illinois, members of its legislature continued to consider igaming as part of its larger efforts to expand gambling in the state. However, instead of doing so with the information available, a new Senate bill proposed a study due later this year to examine revenue potential.
Meanwhile, Florida dismissed the opportunity to legalize online gaming alongside sports betting via a new tribal compact.
Connecticut Moves Ahead
The Connecticut legislature was all over the place at in 2021 with bills regarding gambling expansion. State Senator Catherine Osten put forward SB.146, which seemed to be the most comprehensive bill and the one that specifically included online poker and casino games.
However, Governor Lamont emerged from intensive talks with tribal leaders this year with a bill of his own – HB.6451. There are other associated bills, but Lamont specifically touted his legislation, which passed the Connecticut House of Representatives last week. It sailed through the Committee on Finance, Revenue and Bonding before hitting the House floor on May 18.
The House needed 72 votes to pass the bill but received 122 yea votes as opposed to only 21 nay votes. Eight members were absent or chose not to vote on the measure.
*Connecticut Lawmakers Take First Steps Toward Online Gambling, Sports Betting
• Connecticut’s House overwhelmingly passed a bill to bring sports betting & iGaming to the state.
• Current timeline plans for CT sports betting to start around the beginning of the NFL season.
— Roundhill Investments (@roundhill) May 24, 2021
After that May 20 vote, the House sent the bill to the Senate the next day.
In his press release touting the move, Governor Lamont focused heavily on sports betting and urged action. “I look forward to this measure’s swift passage in the Senate,” he said, “so we can start the federal process of ensuring this legislation and agreement is authorized.”
But Does It Include Online Poker?
The title of the HB.6451 reported that it is “an act concerning the authorization, licensing and regulation of online casino gaming, ,retail and online sports wagering, fantasy contests, keno and online sale of lottery tickets.”
The word poker did not appear in the original iteration of that bill. The first full substitute bill did mention online poker in the following contexts:
–“’Online casino gaming’ means slots, blackjack, craps, roulette, baccarat, poker and video poker, bingo, live dealer and other peer-to-peer games, and any variations of them, and any games authorized by the Department of Consumer Protection, conducted over the internet…”
–“’Authorized games’ means any game of chance, including, but not limited to, blackjack, poker, dice money-wheels, roulette, baccarat, chuck-a-luck… and any other game of chance authorized by the Commission or Consumer Protection.”
–“’Gambling’ means risking any money, credit, deposit or other thing of value for gain contingent in whole or in part upon lot, chance or the operation of a gambling device, including the playing of a casino gambling game such as blackjack, poker, craps, roulette or a slot machine.”
The final bill passed by the House included the same language. It is unclear, though, what the authors mean by poker. If they mean true, peer-to-peer online poker online, then all is well for poker players. There is a chance, however, that they could mention poker as a table game, such as Three-Card Poker.
As it stands, the legislation does not specifically mention online poker.
(Author’s note: If only there was an organization of some sort that could represent online poker and its players in situations like this, something like the Poker Alliance…but I digress.)
Florida Uninterested in iGaming
There has been chatter for years that the Seminole Tribe of Florida wanted to expand its gambling beyond land-based casinos. They specifically wanted to offer online poker and casino games. This year was the first that it had the chance to do so with any seriousness, as tribal leaders worked with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis worked on a new compact.
In April, the Seminoles and DeSantis finalized that new gaming compact to the tune of $500 million. This means that the tribe will pay the state at least $500M in annual payments. The focus was on sports betting via a mobile app, and the new compact authorizes betting on sports, including collegiate and individual events and Olympic competitions. And the Seminoles now have an exclusive hold on the market for 30 years.
All Floridians are winners with the Florida Legislature's approval of the Seminole gaming compact and @GovRonDesantis' successful negotiations. Billions are headed Florida's way to build a brighter future for the Sunshine State! https://t.co/P23QtBdSIF
— Florida GOP (@FloridaGOP) May 20, 2021
Online Poker Report pointed out that there had been a clause in that new gaming compact to allow “good faith negotiations” to consider amending the compact to include more online games. This could have, theoretically, included online casino games and online poker.
As the State Senate took up the bill, lawmakers in both houses agreed to remove that clause. House Speaker Chris Sprowls noted, “Some language in the compact could be construed to lead to the backdoor expansion of online gaming. Even the mere possibility of this was unacceptable.”
The bill is now likely to pass with regard to sports betting only.
There are hurdles, though. Not only did the Florida legislature need to approve it, the US Department of the Interior must do the same. In addition, a group of business leaders and others who oppose gambling expansion in Florida plan to sue. They claim that the 2018 ballot measure (Amendment 3) gave the right to authorize gaming compact changes solely to the voters of the state. The lawsuit will be based on DeSantis violating that law, changing the compact without voter approval.
Sports betting may be tied up in court for years. And it looks like lawmakers are miles away from even considering online poker and casinos for the state of Florida.
1:45 PM on The Florida Channel: House Select Subcommittee on Seminole Gaming Compact (from May 17) https://t.co/SxkXyDphVn
— The FLORIDA Channel (@floridachannel) May 22, 2021