Gov. Ned Lamont voiced Tuesday his support for a bill that would authorize the tribes to conduct sports betting on their reservations — home to Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun — and also permit the tribes, the Connecticut Lottery Corp. and the state's off-track betting operator to conduct sports betting outside the tribes' reservations.
The proposal Lamont is backing would not give exclusive rights to the tribal casinos to operate sports betting, as another bill submitted in the legislature would, Hartford Courant reports.
The tribes support an alternative proposal introduced by Sen. Cathy Osten, Senate Bill 21, which would grant them the exclusive right to provide sports betting and online gaming, invest in a Bridgeport casino and sports-betting “centers” in several cities, and authorize an online lottery.
“The narrow sports betting bill is simpler, focuses exclusively on sports betting, and is, therefore, more achievable in this short legislative session,” Lamont spokesman Max Reiss said in a statement.
“It also builds upon the state’s existing partnership with the tribes, is more likely to withstand legal challenges from third party competitors, and promotes a fair and competitive sports betting market outside the tribes’ reservations,” Reiss said.
The legislative hearing on the gaming bills held Tuesday turned tense at times, as legislators and advocates sparred over the two proposals. Osten spoke passionately about the state’s relationship with the tribes, noting the jobs and revenue the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequots have generated over a period of decades. The senator said she was “flummoxed” that other legislators objected to giving the tribes the exclusive right to operate sports betting.
Minutes later, Rep. Joe Verrengia, who backs the narrow bill, and Mashantucket Pequot chairman Rodney Butler bantered over the tribes’ compact with the state, which grants the tribes exclusive operation of all “casino games.” Verrengia, who has said he wants greater competition in a potential sports-betting market, suggested it was a matter of opinion whether sports betting counts as a “casino game,” while Butler asserted that it unequivocally does. Butler said the tribes will cease payments to the state if they view the state as having violated the compact, likely leading to litigation.
Representatives of both tribes, as well as Bridgeport mayor Joe Ganim and other lawmakers, spoke Tuesday in favor of the broader gambling bill. CT Lottery CEO Gregory Smith testified in favor of the narrower sports betting proposal.
Reiss said Lamont hopes to minimize litigation around any sports betting proposal the state ultimately enacts. MGM has already sued the U.S. Interior Department for approving a tribal casino in East Windsor. Butler said the governor’s office has attempted to talk the tribes out of building a casino in East Windsor due to fear of litigation.
“[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.”
Lamont has long been a proponent of sports betting and has said that while he “would like a global agreement” around sports betting, he viewed a simpler approach as more practical.
Opponents of sports betting cite relatively modest revenue projections, the risk of increased problem gambling and the cost to low-income residents, who are typically more likely to place bets.