Connecticut Tribes Threaten Governor’s Plan to Split Sports Betting Among Contenders

Posted on: March 3, 2020, 04:18h. 

Last updated on: March 3, 2020, 06:53h.

Connecticut’s Mashantucket Pequots and Mohegans are strongly opposed to a proposal by Gov. Ned Lamont which would force the tribes to share in sports wagering when it becomes legal in the state with the region’s off-track betting operator and the Connecticut Lottery.

A sports betting plan from Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont that rejects exclusive rights for the state’s two tribes is facing strong opposition from the Mashantucket Pequots and Mohegans. (Image: Hartford Courant)

Under Lamont’s plan, sports betting would take place at the tribes’ Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort casinos. But the Connecticut Lottery and Sportech — which operates 14 OTB locations in the state — could take part in online and off-reservation wagering.

Representatives of the two tribes rejected Lamont’s favored proposal on Monday, according to the Connecticut Mirror. The tribes contend they have an exclusive right to sports betting — and threaten to sue and suspend current state payments, news reports said.

The Democratic governor’s plan also brings into question the future of MGM Resorts’ involvement in Connecticut. The company released a statement to Tuesday saying that it could file more litigation to defend its right to compete for new gaming opportunities.

In a statement released by his press secretary, Lamont supports splitting of sports betting because “It is simpler … and is more achievable in this short legislative session.

“It also builds upon the state’s existing partnership with the tribes, is more likely to withstand legal challenges from third party competitors, and promotes a fair and competitive sports betting market outside the tribes’ reservations,” the statement adds.

The governor wants to sign a sports betting bill in the next few months. The state has been at an impasse over gaming for years.

On Tuesday, Lamont rejected a competing proposal that would give the tribes exclusive rights to sports betting and “virtually all other forms of online gaming both on and off their tribal reservations.”

That bill — sponsored by Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague — would also let the tribes open a casino in Bridgeport for a $100 million investment, the Connecticut Post reported. MGM has proposed its own casino in Bridgeport.

In statements on Tuesday, Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council, noted several other states assign sports betting exclusively to in-state tribes. No state divides sports betting between tribes and an OTB operator, he added.

Butler further argues sports betting would be governed by existing compacts between the tribes and the state. The compacts give them exclusive rights to operate slots in exchange for 25 percent of gross gaming revenue (GGR) going to fund state programs.

The tribes warn they could withhold slot revenue if they lose exclusivity. Last year, the state’s share totaled about $255 million.

Rep. Joe Verrengia, D-West Hartford, co-chairman of the Public Safety and Security Committee, asked Butler on Tuesday if the tribes would withhold the state’s portion of GGR if Lamont’s plan was approved.

“We would have to, correct,” Butler was quoted by the Mirror. James Gessner, Chairman of the Mohegan tribe, added that Lamont’s proposal would lead to “certain litigation,” The Wall Street Journal reported.

Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim, a Democrat, restated his support for a Bridgeport casino during committee testimony. “A Bridgeport venue not only will benefit the city, but also will stabilize and maximize state revenues from casino gaming and sports betting,” Ganim said.

MGM Demands Competitive Process in Connecticut

In Tuesday’s statement, MGM repeated requests that the state’s approval process “should be transparent and open to all competitors.

“We are not looking for Connecticut to select MGM, right here and right now — we are merely looking for an opportunity to compete, on an even playing field. MGM will continue to pursue all legal options, including litigation, to defend our right to compete in Connecticut,” the MGM statement warned.

Continuing to artificially restrict, constrain, or prevent an open, transparent, and competitive process while expanding state-sanctioned gaming is, in our view, not in the best interest of Connecticut’s taxpayers, communities, or economic growth,” MGM added. “That position hasn’t changed since Connecticut first began to look at an expansion of gaming outside of tribal lands.”

MGM has already filed litigation because there were no competitive bids for the tribes’ jointly proposed satellite Tribal Winds casino in East Windsor. That planned gaming property is progressing slowly.

MGM has gone to court to oppose the new casino, which is 13 miles south of MGM Springfield. Local zoning issues have also been raised.

Connecticut Gambling Expansion Criticized

There are also concerns in Connecticut about overall expansion of gambling. Michele Mudrick, a representative of the Southern New England Conference United Church of Christ and Director of the Coalition Against Casino Expansion in Connecticut, said in written testimony Tuesday, “There are better strategies for creating jobs and promoting economic growth in Connecticut that don’t come with the significant downsides that casinos and expanded gambling bring.

“The bills before us today will produce a massive expansion of gambling … and … will have a massive impact on people’s lives, with greater and greater financial losses for Connecticut citizens,” Mudrick cautioned.