Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont Signs State Gaming Compact to Legalize Sports Betting
Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Getty Images. Pictured: The Connecticut State Capitol building.
Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont signed the state’s gaming compact legislation on Thursday, which opens the door for legal online and retail betting in the state. Sportsbook operators still must pass through several more regulatory steps before legal wagering can begin, but stakeholders are hoping for a Fall 2021 launch.
That relatively quick turnaround is all the more impressive considering Connecticut's prior multiyear impasse to strike an accord. Then earlier this year, Lamont, the state’s two gaming tribes and the Connecticut Lottery announced a groundbreaking deal to would make Connecticut the first competitive sports betting market in New England.
“It’s a great day for the industry, I think there’s no question about that,” said Lottery Board Director Rob Simmelkjaer in an interview with the Action Network. “To have this state, which was considered a longshot by so many people, bridge the gap between what the state saw as a path to sports betting and what the tribal nations thought was their right to sports betting; a lot of people thought that gap would never be bridged.”
Here’s where that compromise will bring to Connecticut:
Sports Betting Through the Tribes
The gaming compact struck between Lamont, the Mashantucket Pequot and the Mohegans enables the two tribes to open and regulate retail sportsbooks at their Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos, respectively. The Mashantucket Pequots have partnered with DraftKings and the Mohegans with Kambi.
The federal Department of the Interior must approve the compact within 45 days after officially receiving the signed compact, but that seems like a formality. The tribes operate two of the world’s largest casino resorts, and the Interior Department has already signed off on similar tribal retail sportsbook arrangements in other states, including an Arizona compact earlier this month.
The compact was part of a larger bill that will also permit the tribes to open statewide mobile sportsbooks. Federal tribal gaming law prohibits tribes from opening their own online sportsbooks, so the Connecticut tribes agreed to place their online books under state regulators' purview.
Similarly, the state’s iCasino offerings, which will include digital versions of slots, table games and other popular casino offerings, will also be regulated by Connecticut officials.
Additionally, the tribes agreed to pause plans for a new joint casino in East Windsor.
Sports Betting Through the Lottery
The bill Lamont signed earlier this week enacted the tribal gaming compact and also permitted the Connecticut Lottery to open one online sportsbook and up to 15 retail books.
The lottery is now accepting final bids to be its exclusive sportsbook operator with a final decision is expected later this summer. The winning bidder will partner with the lottery for both its online and retail sportsbooks.
The 2021 gaming bill prohibits the lottery from partnering with any sportsbook directly branded under an existing physical casino. That would seemingly exclude Caesars, MGM (BetMGM), Golden Nugget, Hard Rock and Wynn.
Additionally, the bill requires daily fantasy sites to be licensed by the state and "tethered" with either one of the tribes or with the lottery. DraftKings already has secured Connecticut daily fantasy sports market access with the Mashantucket Pequot tribe.
Like with the two tribal digital sportsbooks, eligible bettors age 21 and up who are physically located in Connecticut may place a mobile bet within state lines. The lottery has not announced any retail locations yet, but it is required by the gaming bill to open at least one sportsbook in Hartford and Bridgeport. Moreover, the lottery cannot open any location within 25 miles of the two tribal casinos.
Simmelkjaer said the lottery is discussing retail sportsbook partnerships with Sportech, operator of the state’s off-track betting facilities. No deal has been finalized yet, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see at least a few of the eligible retail locations partner with OTBs.
Like the online book, Simmelkjaer said state regulators and the lottery are working to open the first retail books by this Fall. Not all 15 will go live by the end of the year, and it's too early to tell when or how many will open.
The Connecticut Lottery can’t offer online casino games. However, the bill permits it to offer certain online lottery draw games, not including instant scratch-offs.
Both the tribes and lottery are awaiting approval from the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection, which must draft further regulations and then license each gaming entity. State officials have already begun this process, and stakeholders are working toward a September launch.
“The start of the NFL season is extremely ambitious, but we’re doing everything in our power to accomplish that or as close to that as possible,” Simmelkjaer said.
New Hampshire (DraftKings) and Rhode Island (William Hill) have de facto monopolies — and as sports betting bills still linger in Massachusetts, Vermont and Maine, Connecticut is on the cusp of New England’s first competitive market.
More significantly, Connecticut officials believe this compromise approach between competing gaming interests could be a model for the region and nation overall.
“I think other states that can look at Connecticut and reach an agreement that works for everyone and be an accelerate progress in other states,” Simmelkjaer said.