Connecticut Tribes Want Control of State Sports Betting Market

Posted on: May 3, 2018, 02:00h. 

Last updated on: May 3, 2018, 09:33h.

If sports betting becomes legal in the state of Connecticut, the tribes that operate the two Native American casinos in the state believe they should have the exclusive rights to take those bets.

Connecticut sports betting
Hundreds of Super Bowl bets are displayed at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook. Connecticut tribes want exclusive rights to sports betting if the practice is legalized in the state. (Image: Ethan Miller/Getty)

The Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes each sent letters to leaders in the state legislature last weekend, arguing that the compacts that the tribes signed with the state government would also cover sports betting.

Is Sports Betting a Casino Game?

That agreement gives the state 25 percent of all slot revenue from Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, the two Native American casinos in the Connecticut. In exchange, the tribes have the exclusive right to offer commercial casino games.

The question, then, is whether sports betting would fall under that designation. While many state lawmakers seem to think that argument is disingenuous, the tribes points to Nevada, where casinos are the only entities to host sportsbooks.

In a letter to legislative leaders, Mohegan Attorney General Helga Woods argued that the state would invalidate their compact with the tribe, which could put into jeopardy the $250 million or more the state receives in slots revenue from the casinos annually.

“If the state authorizes video facsimile gaming, the exclusivity provisions would be violated and our obligations to make the slot contributions cease,” Woods wrote.

That’s a threat that has come up frequently in discussions over gambling expansion in Connecticut, as the payments from the tribes are a significant source of income for the state. However, they’ve also been open to compromise. When the state legalized keno, the tribes agreed to modify the compacts to avoid any exclusivity issues in exchange for 12.5 percent of keno revenue.

“The 2015 Keno legislation can be a good model for resolving exclusivity issues to permit sports betting and Internet gaming as part of our casino offerings,” Woods wrote.

Legislators Question Validity of Tribal Argument

Not everyone thinks that there’s a conflict to resolve when it comes to sports betting. State Attorney General George Jepsen has described the status of sports betting as an “open question.” Many state legislators are also skeptical of the tribes’ stance.

“Their argument is a little less credible because when the compact was signed, there was no sports gaming in Connecticut,” said House Majority Leader Matthew Ritter (D-Hartford) at a press briefing. “It was never contemplated, the specific words were never used, and here we are 26 years later and they’re raising it for the first time.”

Before who gets to take bets on sporting events even becomes an issue, there are a few hurdles to overcome. First, there’s the question of whether the Supreme Court will rule in favor of New Jersey and overturn the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), which currently prevents any states from passing new sports betting regulations. A decision is expected by June.

Before anyone could place bets in Connecticut, however, the state would also have to legalize sports betting. A bill asking the Department of Consumer Protection to adopt regulations on sports wagering is currently before the Connecticut House of Representatives, after the Judiciary Committee voted 28-5 in favor of the legislation.