HARTFORD (AP) — Casino executives, lottery officials, and even former baseball player and manager Bobby Valentine traveled to Connecticut’s Capitol on Tuesday, hoping to get a piece of whatever system the legislature may put in place to legalize sports gambling.
The General Assembly’s Public Safety and Security Committee held a public hearing on a package of legislation to expand gambling in the state, including bills that would authorize sports betting.
A U.S Supreme Court ruling last year that opened up wagering on athletics has already led to its legalization in several states, including neighboring Rhode Island and nearby New Jersey.
Officials estimated that sports gambling could be a $100 million-a-year business in Connecticut, with a percentage, estimated at anywhere between $8 million and $20 million a year, going to the state through a tax.
But state lawmakers have not decided how sports betting would work. Unlike many other states, Connecticut must consider how any bill might affect the state’s revenue-sharing compact with the two Native American tribes that own its two casinos.
That deal gives the state a 25 percent share of the slot machine revenues generated at the Foxwoods Resort and Mohegan Sun casinos. Combined, the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes provided the state with $273 million in fiscal year 2018.
Tribal leaders said that they are currently in talks with Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont about how sports betting should work, but that they must be part of any proposal.
“It is our belief that we cannot do anything that puts these agreements in jeopardy,” said Ray Pineault, the president and general manager of Mohegan Sun.
One plan for sports gambling would allow the tribes to run any sportsbooks and any online betting. But another plan being considered by lawmakers would issue licenses to the tribes and other gambling operators.
The Connecticut Lottery Corp., off-track betting companies, other casinos and even sports bars are hoping to get a piece of the action.
“Our estimates show that we will return about four to five times as much money per dollar wagered as any other operator,” said Greg Smith, the president and chief executive officer of the Connecticut Lottery Corp. “This is because, just like a lottery game, we would give the state all of the profits the Lottery generates from sports betting, as opposed to a small return on profits that the casinos or commercial operators would pay.”
Valentine, a former major league player and manager, owns two sports bars in Connecticut that already offer off-track wagering on horse racing, greyhound racing, and jai alai. He would like a similar deal put in place for sports betting.
“If you can make the change to offer legal and safe sports betting for your constituents, then let’s go,” he said. “It’s game time.”
Lawmakers also must decide how to handle any potential conflict involving sports wagering at the Mohegan Sun, which is home to tribe-owned WNBA and professional indoor lacrosse teams.
Pineault said outside the hearing room that the easy answer would be to not allow betting on those teams to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.
University of Connecticut Athletic Director David Benedict testified he would like lawmakers to prohibit betting on his school’s games. And representative of professional player’s associations testified they would like to see legal protections for players who could face threats fans over bad bets.
Meanwhile, Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequots, said separate gambling legislation, which would create a competitive bidding process for another casino in Connecticut, would lead the tribe to immediately stop payments to the state.
He likened the situation to him asking his wife of 17 years if he can look around for a possible new wife, with a better house and smarter children.
“I don’t think she’d appreciate that,” he said.
Members of the Bridgeport delegation are again pushing for a competitive bidding bill in hopes of bringing a casino to their city and MGM Resorts has expressed interest.
Both tribes are supporting another bill this session that removes a provision in state law requiring them to receive federal approval before a proposed, jointly owned casino in East Windsor can open.