Connecticut Tribal Chairman Rodney Butler Questions Sports Betting Delay

Posted on: August 2, 2020, 12:08h. 

Last updated on: August 3, 2020, 02:15h.

Connecticut tribal leader Rodney Butler, the chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, says there’s no valid reason as to why the state shouldn’t grant its two tribes privileges to operate sports betting.

Connecticut casinos sports betting
Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Chairman Rodney Butler is looking to the state for financial assistance by way of bringing sports betting to Connecticut. (Image: Mark Mirko/Hartford Courant)

Sports betting could soon become operational in all three of Connecticut’s bordering states. Legal wagers on sports can be placed inside upstate New York tribal and commercial casinos, and at Rhode Island casinos in-person and online.

Massachusetts tacked on a sports betting provision to an economic development bill that passed the state House this week, however, it was rejected by the Senate. Gaming industry analysts are nonetheless optimistic that sports betting will be legalized early next year in Massachusetts.

Butler says it’s time for Connecticut lawmakers to act.  

There’s no reason why this initiative can’t be part of an economic stimulus program for the state,” Butler told CT News Junkie. “Rather than simply spending money, this will generate money that can be reallocated to programs that need it throughout the state. It’s much better than raising taxes.”

Sports betting has been being discussed in Connecticut even before the US Supreme Court struck down the federal probation on the gambling activity in May of 2018.

“What are we waiting for now?” Butler questioned. “We’ve been having this conversation amongst folks in the state for the better part of three years.”

Tough Nut to Crack

Connecticut’s gaming industry remains in flux. The state does not have commercial casinos — only Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, respectively owned and operated by the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes.  

Sports betting has become entangled with the gaming expansion debate. In 2017, Connecticut lawmakers and then-Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) signed off on allowing the two tribes to jointly build a satellite casino in East Windsor. The so-called “mini-casino” was approved in an effort to keep critical gaming dollars from flowing north across the state border to MGM Springfield in Massachusetts.

MGM Resorts sued Connecticut on grounds that the state effectively legalized commercial gambling, and failed to hold a competitive bidding process. MGM suggested it’s interested in building an integrated resort casino in Bridgeport, something that gained support with state lawmakers representing the seaport region.

Several sports betting initiatives were introduced in 2019, but no dice. Each effort stalled because of varying legal opinions as to whether the tribes should be handed exclusivity on sports betting.

Butler says if entities other than the two tribes are welcomed to operate sports betting, the 1991 gaming compacts the Native Americans reached with the state to operate Class III gaming (slot machines and table games) would be annulled. As a result, the state would no longer receive its 25 percent share of gross gaming revenue generated by the slots.

Governor Optimistic

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D) says anything is possible when it comes to sports betting. The state legislature is set to hold a special session in September to consider economic programs in wake of the coronavirus.

We made a strong proposal some months ago that I thought would get sports betting off the dime, in a way that did not invite any litigation. I’m looking forward to restarting those discussions,” the governor explained.

Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun reopened June 1, despite Lamont’s pleas for them to remain closed. The two casinos reported a strong first month back, their slot wins down less than five percent compared with June 2019. The properties are only operating at a maximum of 25 percent capacity.