CRDA approves agreements

Connecticut's XL Center arena in Hartford on track to introduce sports betting by September 1

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Connecticut's XL Center in Hartford could soon become a hub for sports betting with a target launch date of September 1, following a series of key decisions and votes made this week. 

The Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA) has approved a range of agreements to ensure that revenue generated from sports betting at the XL Center will be reinvested in maintaining the financially struggling multi-purpose arena and convention center.

The CRDA board members have greenlit arrangements with the state's budgeting body that will redirect gambling profits from the venue to the CRDA itself, which manages the XL Center, rather than the state coffers. 

Michael Freimuth, Executive Director of the CRDA, described the agreements as establishing a clear process for accounting, distributing, and timing the funds. In conjunction with the Connecticut Lottery Corporation, the CRDA will oversee the management of the facility.

It's an agreement to go through a process that accounts for the money, distributes the money, and does it in a certain timeframe in a certain formula,” said Freimuth, as reported by CT Post.

The anticipated "revenue pass-through" is expected to offset the XL Center's projected losses of $3.2 million for the current fiscal year, according to Anthony Lazzaro, Deputy Director of the CRDA. 

Rendering of XL Center's sportsbook

The arena is, according to reports, performing $50,000-100,000 better than budgeted in 2023. Furthermore, upcoming events such as a cannabis conference and a WWE wrestling show are anticipated to draw crowds.

However, the launch of the XL Center's sportsbook still faces one major obstacle—the selection of a new vendor by the Connecticut Lottery Corporation to oversee the operation. 

Rush Street Interactive, which currently manages sports betting at nine locations across the state, announced in March that it would be terminating its partnership with the state, including the planned venue in Hartford.

Companies interested in running the state's sports betting and daily fantasy sports operations are required to submit their bids by Saturday. These bids will include the provision of services such as player account management, branding, marketing, and regulatory reporting. 

It is expected that the lottery will choose a new statewide sports betting vendor by June, giving the selected company a tight turnaround to operationalize the sportsbook by September 1, aligning with the peak sports seasons.

While construction on the XL Center's sportsbook project experienced recent setbacks due to supply chain challenges, progress is still being made. Delays in shipments of glass, HVAC parts, and switchgear—essential components for controlling electrical systems—temporarily halted construction. 

However, according to Freimuth, the corner has been turned, and he anticipates the $4 million sportsbook facility to be ready for opening by September 1, if not earlier. Construction activities at the west side of the XL Center, facing Ann Uccello Street, are ongoing, with workers replacing sections of the concrete facade with glass to create a ‘light-filled’ gambling area.

In addition to the sportsbook project, the CRDA is preparing to solicit bids for a complete overhaul of the 48-year-old XL Center, which is estimated to require a minimum investment of $107 million. 

To facilitate the evaluation of the XL Center bids, the economic development body plans to hire two new staff members in the coming months, with their salaries funded through fees generated by other projects overseen by the CRDA. “The staff honestly is full bore right now,” Freimuth said, as per the cited source.

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