Top Connecticut Lawmaker On Sports Betting: ‘We Want To Be In The On-Deck Circle’

Written By

Updated on

Connecticut sports betting 2018

Connecticut continues to be one of the states that is setting the pace for the discussion about legal sports betting in the US.

Lawmakers in the Constitution State will hold two informational hearings on gambling expansion over the next two weeks, drawing testimony from key stakeholders in sports and gaming.

The chatter is already building, too. Sports betting dominated a 20-minute Q&A during Wednesday’s Capitol News Briefing in Hartford.

The session was handled by House Speaker Joseph Aresimowicz, Majority Leader Matthew Ritter, and Rep. Joe Verrengia, who chairs the Public Safety and Security Committee.

Watch the full video here.

Timeline for CT sports betting?

The back-and-forth centered around the potential timeline for Connecticut to accept its first wager. Although it has already passed a sports betting law, there’s a long way to go before betting can occur.

Regulations need to be drafted by the Department of Consumer Protections (DCP) and approved through the legislative review process. Hardware and software need to be built and tested and the financial framework for sports wagering determined. Tribal compacts, which give them exclusive rights to offer gambling in the state, need to be revisited.

There’s also the pesky fact that sports betting is still federally illegal under the 1992 act known as PASPA. Connecticut and other states are operating under the presumption that the US Supreme Court will pull back that prohibition with an upcoming verdict in the New Jersey sports betting case. But it’s only a presumption, for the time being.

Any sports betting regulations are premature, then, but Connecticut lawmakers say it’s imperative to move forward in anticipation.

“Instead of sitting in the dugout… we want to be in the on-deck circle,” Aresimowicz said. “We need to have everything in place. This is too big of an issue to leave sitting on the table. That entire process could happen within a special session over the summer.”

He skirted around providing a more concrete timeline than that, however.

How much money will CT see from sports betting?

The majority of the impetus to move quickly is, of course, money. States that enter the market first will have a leg up on other states, particularly their neighbors.

Rhode Island’s efforts were cited several times during the course of Wednesday’s briefing in Connecticut. The neighboring state is also on the verge of legal sports betting, with the governor including $23 million of revenue from it in her budget.

Verrengia also highlighted the fact that sports leagues have grown especially interested in the industry. The NBA and Major League Baseball have hired lobbyists in several states, pushing for legislation that includes integrity fees paid directly to them.

“What I’ve learned in following their testimony is that they certainly want to be in at the ground level and have an input on legislation,” Verrengia said. “As states like Connecticut consider legislation, they’re asking for integrity fees. So, we’re talking about an issue that’s all about money. And a lot of money.”

How much money? The group was hesitant to project, but the number Aresimowicz has in mind would be enough to move forward, in his eyes.

“I feel comfortable, if we’re talking 40 to 80 million [dollars], it could happen pretty quickly in a bipartisan way,” he said.

It’s not clear whether he was talking about revenue for operators or the state. The former seems likely, but the latter does not.

The potential market could be larger than the projections account for, though. “We believe more people, even that don’t currently do it, will do it then,” Aresimowicz added. “I never gambled on a slot machine until we opened them up here in the state of Connecticut.”

Focusing on consumer protections

In 2017, Connecticut elected to attempt to legalize sports betting first and then sort out the regulations later.

The task of drafting the framework was left to the DCP, which asked lawmakers for more guidance. That inquiry is what spawned this series of hearings and discussions on the topic.

Aresimowicz says the endeavor is informational, designed to get a picture of the nuts and bolts involved in operating sports betting.

“Bring the individuals in, talk to folks, and actually have a discussion about a Gaming Authority,” he said. “Get individuals with expertise in this area to come in, and come up with a comprehensive gambling strategy or plan for the state of Connecticut.”

Protecting the consumers is paramount, and the three lawmakers dutifully stressed the most important reason to regulate sports betting in the state: It’s already happening illegally.

“We’re competing against the underground,” Verrengia said. He argued that a regulated industry would protect consumers first, with the added benefit of generating some revenue for the state.

Ritter drew a parallel to the legalization of the lottery in the 1970s: “You had people running numbers, basically. And it was done by some unsavory characters. You say, ‘Look, it’s going to happen. Let’s regulate it, and let’s make sure the state does get some benefit from it.’”

Aresimowicz also argued that a regulated industry prevents people from over-extending to bookies. And he reaffirmed his stance that problem gambling awareness will be a priority.

“Whatever money is being raised, a portion of that is going to go to problem gambling,” he said. “And letting people know that there are resources available for them if they find themselves in those difficult situations.”

Sports betting hearing set for Thursday

Based on the tone of the press conference, lawmakers have just as many questions about sports betting as the rest of Connecticut residents do. Some of those questions will likely be answered this week.

The Public Safety and Security Committee will hold an “Informational Hearing on Present and Future Trends of Gaming” on Thursday. It will focus on sports betting, drawing representation from top-level stakeholders who carry long titles behind their names.

Here’s who’s listed on the agenda:

The meeting will start at 11 a.m., and it will be followed up by another forum on broader gambling expansion next week.