Connecticut Sports Betting Bill Would Hand Exclusivity to Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun

Posted on: January 8, 2019, 01:52h. 

Last updated on: January 8, 2019, 01:52h.

Connecticut State Sen. Cathy Osten believes sports betting can be an “early session success story” for the state legislature.

Connecticut sports betting
Connecticut State Sen. Cathy Osten’s bill has broad bipartisan and bicameral support but as it stands it would freeze the state’s lottery and off-track betting facilities out of a future sports betting market. (Image: CT Senate Democrats)

The Sprague Democrat whose district includes the Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods casinos — the principle benefactors of her sports betting bill — was joined by a bipartisan group of more than a dozen sponsors from both chambers to announce the filing of the bill Monday.

The legislation would allow the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes to establish live and online sports books at their two casinos in the southeast of the state.

There is broad support in the legislature for any effort that would help to safeguard the competitiveness of Connecticut’s tribal casino industry, which contributes hundreds of millions per year to state coffers — particularly as it faces new competition from the MGM Springfield, across the Massachusetts border.

Massachusetts is reasonably likely to legalize sports betting this year too, and for Connecticut to fail this year would be disastrous for its casinos, especially since the move to build a satellite casino across the border from the MGM Springfield in a bid to blunt competition has stalled.

Simple Fix   

“Connecticut needs to play catch-up with surrounding states if we’re serious about modernizing our existing gaming industry,” Osten said in an official statement.

“Fortunately, we can do that with a relatively simple regulatory fix. The U.S. Supreme Court decision last year paved the way for the expansion of private-sector sports betting, and I think Connecticut is in a good position to take advantage of that,” Osten added. “We have the infrastructure with the tribal casinos, we can use the new revenue, and we’ve got bipartisan support.”

Osten said there may be scope for other operators like the lottery and the state’s off-track betting facilities to participate in the market as the language of the bill changes during the legislative process, but this would ultimately require new negotiations between with the tribes and Connecticut’s governor-elect Ned Lamont.

Is Sports Betting a Casino Game?

The tribes’ position is that sports betting is a “casino game” and that they hold exclusivity on casino gaming in accordance with their compacts. Some lawmakers are skeptical of this argument, noting that when exclusivity compacts were negotiated with the state in the early 1990s, sports betting was not part of the picture.

Meanwhile, the fact that the District of Columbia — which has no casinos — recently legalized sports betting would appear to undermine the tribes’ argument. Outgoing Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen has suggested that the question of whether sports betting is a casino game is “wide open.”

There is concern that the tribes could withhold their revenue-share payments if they don’t get their way on sports betting, although this would undermine their resistance to MGM’s proposal to build a casino in the city of Bridgeport, a motion that is likely to resurface in 2019.