he recent agreement between Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont and the two tribal casinos to expand gambling made its first step in the General Assembly Wednesday with committee approval of sports betting, online wagers and a casino in Bridgeport.
The legislation, drafted in four bills that now head to the House and Senate, is intended to “expand and modernize” gambling as agreed to after years of negotiations between the Lamont administration and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and Mohegan Tribe, who run the two state’s casinos, said Rep. Maria Horn, House chairwoman of the Public Safety and Security Committee, as reported by Hartford Courant.
The committee approved legislation authorizing sports betting and online platforms for casino gambling, lottery and Keno on tablets, laptops and phones; a tribal resort casino in Bridgeport; and rules such as a 21 age limit, a ban on athletes, coaches and others to bet on sports in which they participate and financial transaction regulations. It also adopts into law the agreement between Lamont and the Mohegans and Mashantucket Pequots to put into effect the governor’s budget recommendations. The state expects expanded gambling to yield tens of millions of dollars in annual revenue, though an estimate has yet to be calculated.
Rep. Carol Hall, R-Enfield, said she opposed legislation incorporating Lamont’s deal with the tribes because a joint Mohegan-Mashantucket Pequot casino proposed for East Windsor was scuttled in the agreement. The casino was initially planned to compete with MGM Springfield, but due to market saturation, it was scaled back even before the coronavirus pandemic hammered casino revenue.
Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford, opposed the legislation because he said it reserves sports betting to the tribes and Connecticut Lottery Corp. “I think that the public, if we’re going to do this, should be at the table, that I should be able to apply to run a sports betting operation,” he said. “I think everyone should have that opportunity.”
Fishbein also objected to legislation authorizing the tribes to operate a casino in Bridgeport, calling them a “select class” and that the state is excluding commercial casino operators. The legislation will invite a lawsuit from commercial casino operators, he said.
Sen. Dennis Bradley, a Bridgeport Democrat and Senate chairman of the committee, said legislation for a new casino is “just one step in many steps” that would require approval from the U.S. Department of Interior. “I’m not under any illusion that it’s not going to happen overnight, but we’re just trying to get the wheels going to make it happen.”
MGM Resorts, which operates casinos in Springfield and Yonkers, N.Y., has considered Bridgeport as a site for a casino. Bradley said the state is unwilling to break its compacts that grant exclusive gambling rights to the Mohegans and Mashantucket Pequots.