Connecticut Wants to Address Online Gaming Again
There is a push for online gaming in the state of Connecticut. It has happened before – even just earlier this year – but there is another bill and another effort to get it done.
The proposed legislation is broader than just online poker, however. It combines a number of forms of gambling into a bill that would widely expand the amount of gambling that Connecticut can offer.
Past attempts to legalize online gaming have also been done in conjunction with larger gambling expansion efforts. Most have had some bipartisan support but found a great deal of uncertainty from Governor Ned Lamont.
The new draft bill is not much different except that lawmakers have learned from past attempts and created a new, thoughtful and detailed piece of legislation with broad-ranging support. This is not to say it will not have an uphill battle to pass, but supporters maintain hope.
Busy Year Thus Far
The year started on a hopeful note for many seeking gambling expansion in Connecticut, as SB.17 was introduced within the first weeks of January. The bipartisan act supported the legalization of sports wagering, internet gaming, and internet keno.
Online poker for Connecticut? There is a bipartisan bill to legalize online poker, casino games, keno, and sports betting…but only at Mohegan and Foxwoods. Is that enough for now? https://t.co/U8ez6IjDA2 pic.twitter.com/9XcLA8tvG7
— LegalUSPokerSites (@legal_poker) January 22, 2019
With 18 co-sponsors – both Senators and Representatives – the bill moved forward through an arduous hearing in February. But when SB.17 went up for a vote in that Joint Committee on Public Safety and Security in mid-March, it passed by a vote of 16-8. The bill went to the Senate floor on April 8, but it never received a full Senate vote.
Lamont was optimistic and supportive in the beginning. The Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes pushed for online gaming, though there were some concerns about tribal compacts.
Discussions among a range of interested parties ensued…and continued into May. And as the June 5 deadline approached, signaling the end of the formal Connecticut legislative session, there was little progress. And the bill eventually died.
New Bill Drafted and Revealed
This week, State Senator Catherine Olson revealed a new bill in draft form, this one to legalize online gaming, online and mobile sports betting, and an online lottery. Olson was one of the original supporters of the previous bill.
— Cathy Osten (@CathyOsten) July 31, 2019
The “act concerning jobs in and revenue from the gaming industry” looks to have been officially drafted on July 1, 2019, but it remains a working draft.
The bill authorizes Lamont to amend the compacts with the Mohegans and Mashantucket Pequots so they may operate land-based, mobile, and internet sports wagering and other forms of online gaming. The Connecticut Lottery Corporation would be able to sell lottery tickets via the internet and mobile devices. Tribes would be authorized to operate a casino in Bridgeport and one in East Windsor.
Within 12 months of the authorization of the bill, the Commissioner of Consumer Protection will adopt regulations for all new forms of gambling. And taxes would be set forth as follows:
–Each online gaming operator would pay 10% of gross gaming revenue.
–Each sports wagering operator would pay 8% of gross gaming revenue.
As for online gaming, the following are listed as authorized games of chance:
–Over and Under
–Horse Race game
–Beat the Dealer
–Video facsimile games (slot machines)
There are no initial or renewal licensing fees mentioned in the draft bill yet, and poker is lumped in with other games of chance.
There are provisions in the bill to establish a treatment and rehabilitation facility for compulsive gamblers, along with other treatment and prevention services to be offered by the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
One day after the legislation was unveiled, economist Jonathan Taylor released a commissioned report detailing the successes of the Mashantucket Pequots in the form of a $1.1 billion impact on the 2017 Connecticut economy. The “Economic Impact of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation” report showed that its Foxwoods casino employed 7,558 workers as of October 2018 and has attracted 300 million visitors since it opened in 1992.
According to Mashantucket Pequot Chairman Rodney Butler as related by the Hartford Courant, the overall positive impact of Foxwoods is positive for Connecticut. “I think it brings back to the forefront what a great partnership this has been with the state,” he said.
The Mohegans are also very supportive of the legislation.
Governor Lamont and MGM
While the tribes were included in the discussions surrounding the drafting of the new legislation, Lamont was not. And he has issues.
The Hartford Courant received a statement from Lamont’s Communications Director, Max Reiss, who noted that Lamont had little time to go into the legislation since it was received only a week before it was unveiled, but he noted, “A matter of such significance requires substantial involvement from multiple stakeholders, in particular the executive branch.”
Further, Lamont is apparently concerned that the bill will only instigate litigation from MGM if the Bridgeport and East Windsor casinos are awarded to the tribes. Reiss said Lamont will need a “global resolution” to the issue regarding MGM and off-track betting operators before he could support it.
Therefore, Lamont is not prepared to support any bill this year that does not address MGM’s concerns.
“I don’t believe giving the keys to our lucrative gaming market here in the state of Connecticut to one entity is a good idea"
Gambling expansion in #Connecticut ?
Not exactly time to double down.@WTNH pic.twitter.com/leHNvroCYI
— Scott McDonnell (@ScottMcDonnell_) August 2, 2019
Seeking a Special Session
Since the regular legislative session closed nearly two months ago, Osten has requested a special session to discuss the new gaming bill. The Senate is controlled by Democrats, and they have not yet decided if they will authorize the session.
The bill could be postponed until 2020, but Osten and co-sponsors like Representatives Chris Davis and Christopher Rosario believe the state would be better served if they could address the issue sooner. They will continue to push for the special session in the second half of 2020.