Connecticut’s Governor Signs Sports Betting Law, Sets Stage for Legalization if Federal Policy Changes

Just over a month after lawmakers in Connecticut approved a measure to regulate sports betting in the state – provided the current federal prohibition is repealed – Governor Dannel Malloy signed H-6948 into law.

The sports betting regulation directive was included within a wider gambling expansion package, one which allows the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes to jointly operate Connecticut’s third tribal casino.

But while that controversial move has garnered the majority of headlines, Malloy’s signature immediately sets the state up to offer legalized sports betting – if and when the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) is amended or repealed. PAPSA has been used as grounds for a federal ban on sports betting since its passage in 1992, outlawing sportsbooks and related wagering in all but four states (Nevada, Delaware, Montana, and Oregon).

In October of 2014, Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey signed a law allowing sports betting in the Garden State – one which omitted deference to PAPSA entirely. This prompted a lawsuit from North America’s four major professional sports leagues (NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL), along with the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

Nearly three years later, Christie and New Jersey have appealed their way to the U.S. Supreme Court – where a decision in favor of the state would effectively rescind PAPSA’s purview over state-authorized sports betting.

Furthermore, Representative Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ) has introduced the Gaming Accountability and Modernization Enhancement (GAME) Act of 2017, which among other iGaming-related initiatives would directly repeal PAPSA.

Section 2 of H-6948 explicitly instructs state’s Department of Consumer Protections (DCP) to begin crafting regulations which would govern sports betting in Connecticut provided PAPSA is eventually removed from the equation:

“The Commissioner of Consumer Protection shall adopt regulations, in accordance with the provisions of chapter 54 of the general statutes, to regulate wagering on sporting events to the extent permitted by state and federal law.”

A spokesperson for the DCP issued a statement confirming that work was already underway on that front, while also observing that New Jersey’s court battle is currently ongoing:

“DCP is tasked with adopting regulations to regulate wagering on sporting events to the extent permitted by state and federal law.

The Department is also aware of the New Jersey case that the U.S. Supreme Court is taking up and will continue to monitor federal activity surrounding sports betting.”

Per a report published June 23 by the Hartford Courant, one aspect of the DCP’s planning phase will entail studying online sports betting in addition to casino-style sportsbooks:

“But to push through legislation, the addition of OTB sites and setting up a regulatory framework of future, but not yet legal, online sports betting were both critical to gathering enough votes for casino expansion.”

Lawmakers in Mississippi successfully passed a similar sports betting regulation bill earlier this year, as part of wider daily fantasy sports (DFS) legislation, and Governor Phil Bryant signed it into law.

California has attempted the same in previous years, and just this week Assemblyman Adam Gray introduced an amendment to the state Constitution which would regulate sports betting upon federal reform.

Gray issued a statement clarifying that New Jersey’s case reaching the Supreme Court compelled him to act:

“I am pleased to see the US Supreme Court has shouldered the burden of bringing legal clarity to the issue of sports wagering and the rights of states under the United States Constitution.”

Several other states have introduced similar sports betting legislation in anticipation that PAPSA will fall, including Hawaii, Maryland, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and West Virginia

In Connecticut, any action on PAPSA would provide the basis for implementing H-6948’s sports betting directive – but lawmakers there would still need to overturn the current statutes which criminalize operating sportsbooks.