State lawmakers spent 11 hours discussing a litany of legislative efforts last week, but online poker and casino gaming slipped under the radar with little to no debate on Connecticut iGaming.
That bodes well for Senate Bill 17, which would legalize and regulate online poker and casino games, along with sports betting via brick and mortar and online venues.
But a separate piece of legislation, Senate Bill 665, which focuses exclusively on sports betting, faces a more complicated path to passage.
During the marathon hearing held by the Joint Public Safety and Security Committee on February 26, lawmakers spent most of their time gathering information about the bills – both of which exist only in draft form with nothing in the way of nuts and bolts details.
Rodney Butler – who serves as chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot tribe – testified to the committee on behalf of Foxwoods Resorts Casino, which is owned and operated by the Mashantucket people. Butler was joined by Ray Pineault, president and general manager of the Mohegan tribe’s Mohegan Sun Resort Casino.
Butler already put the Mashantucket tribe and Foxwoods – the second-largest land-based casino resort in the country – squarely on the side of iGaming legalization last year, telling lawmakers that online poker and casino would provide more revenue than sports betting.
Butler and Pineault haven’t reversed course since then, as both men backed Connecticut iGaming based on its economic benefits.
Pineault told the committee that Connecticut iGaming was capable of generating $10 million in tax revenue and licensing fees over the first full year of operation. Per Pineault’s estimates, those revenue marks would hit $22 million annually by the fifth year, adding $80 million to Connecticut coffers over the first five years.
Pineault also alluded to the struggles faced by Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun in recent years, as regional casino competition has caused revenue at both venues – which participate in revenue sharing with the state – to suffer:
“They also help us to solidify the partnership between the tribes and the state at a time when the situation on the ground is rapidly changing.
We believe this is of profound importance for the economic health of Connecticut.”
State representative Michael DiMassa (D-116) confirmed the state’s gaming slump, testifying that slot revenue sharing had fallen off by $104 million between 2009 and 2017.
During the same hearing, SB-665 and its exclusive effort to regulate sports betting came under closer scrutiny, as Connecticut’s gaming laws do not currently allow for sports betting.
State representative Joe Verrengia (D-20) – who serves as chairman of the House Public Safety and Security Committee – included a so-called “integrity fee” of 0.25 percent on gross gaming revenue. This tax would be paid directly to major professional sports leagues, who have routinely pressured state legislatures to cut them in on the lucrative emerging legal sports betting industry.
But while states like New Jersey and West Virginia have flatly rejected the notion, Verrengia is looking to make Connecticut – which doesn’t have the benefit of any professional sports team presence – the first state to share a slice of the revenue pie with leagues:
“I think there’s a distinct difference here in looking to partner with professional sports teams, and in return they would get up to a certain amount of revenue with the understanding that they would create more of a presence here in the state.
I believe we would be one of the first states to engage in a partnership of this kind and magnitude.”
Both bills will be examined by the House Public Safety and Security Committee next Tuesday, and Verrengia is confident his colleagues will send SB-665 onward for a full floor vote.