Governor Wants CT Sports Betting Bill Narrowly Focused, Inclusive

Posted on March 5, 2020

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont made known this week that he supports an inclusive approach to CT sports betting.

In a statement to the Hartford Courant by Lamont spokesman Max Reiss, the governor also favors a bill focused exclusively on CT sports betting rather than broader gambling legislation.

“[Lamont] wants to sign a sports betting bill into law over the next few months,” Reiss said. “Any such proposal, however, must be designed to avoid and withstand endless legal challenges, include multiple, competing mobile platforms off the tribes’ reservations, and build upon the existing footprints of all of the state’s existing gaming operators.”

What’s in play in CT sports betting

There are two Connecticut sports betting bills in the legislature. The Joint Public Safety and Security Committee bill, H 5168, focuses on sports betting in Connecticut and authorizes all gambling stakeholders in the state — two Indian tribes, off-track betting parlors and Connecticut Lottery Corporation — to offer the activity.

The statement is consistent with comments Lamont made heading into the year that he wanted to “keep it simple” with sports betting legislation this session rather than pursuing a comprehensive agreement as he did last year.

Lamont also would have to amend state compacts with the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot Indian tribes to include CT sports betting.

Connecticut holds another sports betting hearing

Following the comments from the governor’s office, the Joint Public Safety and Security Committee held its second hearing on the issue to discuss the two bills.

Sen. Cathy Osten’s S 21 is the tribes’ choice for a sports betting vehicle. In addition to exclusivity on sports betting in CT, it would:

  • Provide online casino gaming
  • Extend the hours they can serve liquor in casinos
  • Permit them to build a casino in Bridgeport

It was another familiar scene for the Connecticut committee, in which lawmakers feel like they are trapped in Groundhog Day when it comes to discussing gambling issues.

Once again, representatives of the tribes argued that their agreement with the state granting them exclusivity on casino games extends to sports betting. If that presumed exclusivity is breached, they repeated that they would file a lawsuit against the state and cease making $250 million in annual revenue sharing payments.

Lawmakers representing areas that benefit from the tribes, such as Osten, pointed out that the tribes deserve the state’s support for the close to $9 billion paid to the state over nearly three decades.

CT off-track betting parlors get spotlight

Rep. Joe Verrengia, the house chair for the committee, pointed out that off-track betting parlors also have a rich history with the state.

Representatives of Sportech explained that they operate 14 off-track betting parlors in the state that have contributed between $200 million and $250 million over the past two decades, and employ between 350 and 400 employees.

Ted Taylor, president of Sportech, admitted that impact is modest compared to the tribes.

“We just want to be recognized fairly in an environment which we do not believe is exclusive to any one party,” Taylor said.

Verrengia asked if Sportech has had negotiations with the tribes in an attempt to reach a compromise.

“Yes, there have been negotiations with all of the other gaming partners – the lottery and both of the tribes – to try to reach a compromise on sports betting,” said Richard McGuire, CEO of Sportech. “… But I would say it is difficult when the compromise is work under [the tribes’] license or there is no license whatsoever.”

Entertainment zones face scrutiny

The Senate bill allows the tribes to open “entertainment zones” in major cities that would essentially be facilities for sports wagering.

McGuire contended that it would hurt their business to have entertainment zones based on their business model taking bets on sports next to their off-track betting parlors.

“What we really do is we take bets on sporting events outside of our venues,” McGuire said. “The casinos operate casinos and have casino gaming. We’re not looking to operate a casino, obviously, so we would have to look at this very seriously to protect our investment and our 400 jobs.”

He added that if S 21 passed, it could lead to a lawsuit from Sportech, which has an exclusive license with the state for wagering on horse racing, jai alai, and greyhounds.

Verrengia also said he had a problem with the tribes using the OTB’s business model.

“From my perspective, I see the value of negotiating this, bringing the parties together and be inclusive, particularly because of any potential legal matters,” Verrengia said.

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Matthew Kredell

Matthew started his career as a sportswriter at the Los Angeles Daily News, where he covered the NFL, Kobe-Shaq three-peat, Pete Carroll’s USC football teams, USC basketball, pro tennis, Kings hockey and fulfilled his childhood dream of sitting in the Dodgers’ dugout. His reporting on efforts to legalize sports betting began in 2010, when Playboy Magazine flew him to Prague to hang out with Calvin Ayre and show how the NFL was pushing US money overseas by fighting expansion of regulated sports betting across the country. A USC journalism alum, Matt also has written on a variety of topics for Men’s Journal, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and ESPN.com.

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