Connecticut’s sports betting hopes appear no closer to the finish line as the state’s governor repeated his opposition to a tribal-only betting bill.
On Tuesday, Gov. Ned Lamont’s office issued a statement emphasizing that the guv “wants to sign a sports betting bill into law over the next few months.” Trouble is, the bill Lamont wants to sign isn’t the one that has the support of the state’s two tribal gaming operators.
In January, State Sen. Cathy Osten introduced legislation that would give the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes the sole right to offer sports betting and online gambling within the state, along with a few other freebies such as a new casino in Bridgeport, full support for the tribes’ stalled joint venture casino in East Windsor and some smaller satellite venues. The state lottery would get to sell tickets online along with ‘iKeno’.
A separate bill followed that focused purely on wagering but would open up the list of possible licensees to include off-track betting operator Sportech and the state lottery. State Rep. Joe Verrengia said the idea was to streamline the legislative process to a single gaming vertical in the hopes of pushing it through before the current session ends in June.
Lamont’s statement made clear his preference for Verrengia’s bill, which he said was “simpler” and thus “more achievable in this short legislative session.” Lamont added that the betting-only bill was “more likely to withstand legal challenges from third party competitors, and promotes a fair and competitive sports betting market outside the tribes’ reservations.”
On Monday, Lamont met with tribal representatives, who emerged with the view that the governor’s position was “this is just too hard and we’ll wait another year.” The CT Mirror quoted Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council chairman Rodney Butler saying the tribes “understand there is a substantial chance for litigation whatever path the state might take but that does not justify inaction.”
The tribes’ maintain that allowing other firms to offer wagering would violate their tribal-state gaming compacts, which require the tribes to pay the state 25% of their slots revenue in exchange for exclusivity over Class III games, which, as defined by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, includes betting.
Tuesday saw both bills discussed at a hearing of the legislature’s public safety committee. Butler said the tribes “would have to” withhold slots payments if the wider betting-only bill was approved. When reminded that the tribes had previously negotiated a deal to allow the state lottery to offer keno – also a Class III game – Butler said that deal was “acceptable because it was a collaborative process … this hasn’t been.”