Connecticut Online Sports Betting Moves Even Closer to Legalization

Connecticut Online Sports Betting Moves Even Closer to Legalization article feature image
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John Moore/Getty Images. Pictured: Connecticut State Capitol.

Connecticut lawmakers easily advanced online sports betting legislation among a larger gaming bills package Wednesday, clearing another legislative hurdle and bringing statewide mobile wagering another key step closer to fruition.

A bicameral, bipartisan committee advanced legislation that would enact a groundbreaking gaming expansion deal between Gov. Ned Lamont and the state’s two gaming tribes. The joint Public Safety and Security Committee approved the central online sports betting and casino measure 20-2. Lawmakers also easily advanced several tangential gaming regulation, taxation and implementation bills.

If passed into law in the coming weeks, legal sports betting could begin as early as this year, possibly ahead of the lucrative professional and college football seasons.

The committee votes come days after Lamont and the Mashantucket Pequots and Mohegan Tribes finalized a renewed gaming compact following years of negotiations. The compact enactment bill now goes to the House of Representatives floor where it is expected to easily clear the full chamber.

“This has been a long time coming,” said committee Co-Chair Maria Horn ahead of Wednesday’s vote. “There has been a lot of work, a lot of meetings, a lot of phone calls, sometimes heated conversations, sometimes some cooling-off periods, but a lot of thoughtful contribution from many people on this committee.”

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Online Sports Betting, Casino Gaming Details

The Mashantucket Pequots and Mohegans, which operate the Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun, respectively, can open online sportsbooks under the bill. The Mashantucket Pequot have a deal with DraftKings, and the Mohegans will partner with Kambi.

The Connecticut Lottery will also be able to open a statewide mobile sports betting platform, though a potential retail partner has not been announced. Connecticut would be the first of roughly two-dozen legal sports betting states to allow both its federally recognized Native American tribes and state lottery to operate online sportsbooks.

The legislation and gaming compact would only allow three total online sports betting skins. This would be the most of any New England state but still significantly less than in other leading Northeastern sports betting markets such as Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

MGM and Wynn, which both operate casinos in neighboring Massachusetts, would both likely pursue a Connecticut BetMGM or WynnBet launch. So too would Manhattan-based FanDuel as well as Caesars / William Hill, which operates Rhode Island’s lone legal online sportsbook, in addition to a host of other top sportsbook operators.

If passed, the legislation calls for as many as 15 retail sportsbooks under the lottery’s purview. The lottery could subcontract these out to Connecticut’s off-track betting venues. The cities of Hartford and Bridgeport are also assured at least one retail sportsbook apiece under the legislation.

The two tribes will also halt plans for a joint East Windsor casino for at least 10 years. This shelved casino plans clear a major sticking point that had stalled the gaming compact’s completion for years. The legislative package advanced Wednesday will allow the tribes to reconsider the casino plans a decade from now.

Beginning in 2018 with then-Gov. Dannel Malloy and continuing with Lamont, his successor, Connecticut governors have pushed for statewide mobile wagering as part of a larger agreement with the two tribes. The proposed East Windsor facility, sports betting rights, taxes, revenue sharing agreements and a host of other issues stalled negotiations until all parties announced a deal earlier this month that satisfied both the powerful gaming tribes and allocated some sports betting opportunities to other gaming interests such as the lottery and OTBs.

The Mohegans formalized the agreement in early March but its implementation was left in limbo for nearly two weeks as the Mashantucket Pequots negotiated final details. The deal would be invalidated without both tribes’ participation, but that fear subsided with their ratification, clearing lawmakers to advance implementation legislation Wednesday.

Legalization Nears Finalization

Wednesday’s resounding committee votes leave little political hurdles for legal Connecticut sports betting.

Though a handful of lawmakers questioned the deals, the complete legislative package advanced with only minor opposition. Lawmakers from both parties and both chambers almost uniformly backed the central enactment bill, clearing the way for relatively seamless passage in the coming weeks.

Elected officials are disinclined to oppose a major new gaming opportunity supported by the tribes, two of the state’s leading economic and tourism drivers. Lamont has substantial support from his fellow Democrats, which overwhelmingly control both chambers of the legislature.

The gaming package’s proponents said lawmakers must still work through a myriad of details before the bill passes. Identical versions must pass both House and Senate before it can reach Lamont’s desk and pass into law.

Still, supporters are highly confident the differences are relatively minor and further negotiations are mostly perfunctory. Connecticut is well positioned to pass the first mobile sports betting bill of 2021.

“I have had calls even this morning about technical things that need to be worked out and consistencies that might need to be worked out and some details that still lie ahead,” Rep. Horn said Wednesday. “I believe these bills in front of us represents our best efforts to document the agreement between the parties and also our intent for what we want to achieve going forward.”

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