A public hearing including Connecticut sports betting carried on for 11 straight hours Tuesday, with one clear theme emerging through it.
In the latest round of an ongoing battle between Indian tribes and state officials, exclusivity took center stage.
The two gaming tribes in the state contend their compact gives them the exclusive right to offer casino gambling, including sports betting. Other current and hopeful gaming stakeholders argue legal sports betting wasn’t a consideration when those compacts were made, and sports betting is not a traditional casino game.
What’s in play for Connecticut sports betting
Two sports betting bills — S 17 and S 665 — were up for discussion in the Joint Public Safety and Security Committee. This was mostly an information-gathering hearing, as neither bill has any detail filled in regarding how Connecticut sports betting would be handled.
Legislators split territorially based on the proximity of current or proposed casino locations to their districts.
However, while tribal parties were firm in their message they would fight vigorously to defend exclusivity in regards to the two casino-expansion related bills also discussed, they did leave an opening that they are willing to discuss the issue in regard to sports betting.
And, in fact, those discussions are currently ongoing with Gov. Ned Lamont.
Tribes state their case
Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe that operates Foxwoods, testified jointly with Ray Pineault, president and GM of Mohegan Sun Resort Casino.
Pineault focused on the economics of Connecticut sports betting. He said tribes anticipated generating $8 million for the state in the first year of operation, climbing as high as $20 million annually in year five, for a total of $65 million over the first five years.
Butler explained the tribal perspective and concerns regarding sports betting:
- Across the country, sports betting is considered a casino game, which means it falls under the exclusivity portion of the tribes’ agreement with the state.
- Allowing operators in addition to tribes would jeopardize the tribal compacts, which the former and current governor recognized by engaging in discussions with tribes.
- The casinos need new opportunities with slot revenue decreasing consistently with new competition across state lines. Total slot machines and jobs also are down significantly at both casinos over the past decade.
- They expect sports betting to boost slot revenue, as seen in Rhode Island, which would also translate into additional revenue for Connecticut.
Legislator fights back on exclusivity
Rep. Joe Verrengia, the House chair of the committee, struggled with the exclusivity argument on sports betting because he doesn’t think it should be considered a casino game in this technology age:
“I understand the argument to be made that it is a casino game, but 30 years ago there wasn’t iPhones and the technology that exists today. If that technology existed 30 years ago, it wouldn’t be a casino game because you wouldn’t have to go to a casino.”
Verrengia added that from what he heard of the discussions with former Gov. Dannel Malloy last year, tribes were willing to work with the state when it comes to allowing others to participate in CT sports betting.
“I appreciate that because, wherever it lands, I believe that there are other stakeholders that should be part of this,” Verrengia said. “To what degree and how that all shapes out, I’m not sure.”
Butler agreed that a conversation can be had in the future.
“It’s been a great partnership and, in our culture, we treat those with respect who treat us with respect,” Butler said. “It’s been a respectful relationship up to this point, and hopefully moving forward, so we were absolutely open to that conversation.”