With two of the state’s three neighbors already reaping the financial benefits of legalized sports betting, the Governor of Connecticut recently urged lawmakers to take action.
In a statement issued by his office on March 3 , Max Reiss – who serves as Governor Ned Lamont’s director of communications – directly referenced Rhode Island and New York successfully launching regulated sports betting over the last two years:
“For years now, Connecticut’s gaming economy has been declining and stuck in litigation while our surrounding states continue to expand and prosper.”
The Governor went on to endorse House Bill 5168, one of three sports betting bills currently circulating within the Connecticut General Assembly. Under HB-5168, the state’s current gambling industry stakeholders – a pair of Native American tribes which operate major East Coast casino resorts, the Connecticut Lottery Corporation, and off-track betting (OTB) parlors – would be permitted to offer sports betting.
But as Lamont alluded to in the statement, the tribes refused to embrace a similarly structured sports betting proposal last year:
“Last legislative session, the governor worked to achieve a comprehensive solution to Connecticut’s ongoing gaming quagmire.
Unfortunately, neither tribe accepted that proposal.”
Tribal Opposition Puts CT Sports Betting in Familiar Stalemate
The tribes in question are Connecticut’s two gambling industry giants, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation who operate Foxwoods Resort Casino and the Mohegan Tribe of Mohegan Sun.
Under a gaming compact with the state signed by both tribes in 1994, the Mashantucket Pequot and the Mohegan were granted the exclusive right to offer Class III casino gambling. In exchange, the tribes agreed to pay Connecticut an annual share of 25 percent from their slot machine revenue.
In 2019, that revenue sharing pact diverted a combined $255 million from the tribes’ casinos to government coffers.
Accordingly, despite their desire to operate sportsbooks, the tribes have consistently opposed any gambling expansion legislation which threatens their current exclusivity.
The ongoing stalemate is muddled by the fact that sports wagering isn’t technically classified as a Class III casino game.
For their part, the tribes have thrown their collective political power behind a competing bill that limits sports betting to reservation casinos and their affiliated online / mobile partners. Senate Bill 21 would extend the tribes’ exclusivity to sports betting, while also expanding their reach to include online / mobile sportsbooks and casinos as well.
Governor Won’t Proceed with Sports Betting Under Tribal Plan
In his statement, however, Lamont appeared to draw a line in the sand regarding his hopes for a competitive sports betting marketplace:
“[Lamont] wants to sign a sports betting bill into law over the next few months.
Any such proposal, however, must be designed to avoid and withstand endless legal challenges, include multiple, competing mobile platforms off the tribes’ reservations, and build upon the existing footprints of all of the state’s existing gaming operators.”
During a private meeting with the Governor, Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation chairman Rodney Butler rejected HB-5168 out of hand – while threatening to withhold future slot machine revenue sharing if it eventually becomes law:
“Because it goes in the face of our agreements that we have with the state and that we’ve had that have been incredibly prosperous for the state and for the tribes for almost 30 years.
If you have those agreements in place and you believe that we can move forward with sports betting, why not do it with your existing partners under the current agreements that we have?”
At the same meeting, Chuck Bunnell – the chief of staff for the Mohegan Tribe – said any non-exclusive sports betting law would be subject to immediate challenges in court:
“We would be forced to oppose that.
We believe we have exclusive rights to sports betting
We would be forced to litigate.”