With the state’s two casino resorts closed down indefinitely due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, Connecticut Tribal iGaming seeks immediate legalization to provide relief for gaming operators in Connecticut.
Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun – operated by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and the Mohegan Tribe, respectively – have been shuttered since March 17 on Governor Ned Lamont’s (D) executive order.
At the time, Lamont positioned the historic closures – Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun have never shut down since opening in 1992 and 1996, respectively – as a necessary act of cooperation in the spirit of public safety:
“This is an important cooperative agreement between sovereign nations and the State of Connecticut.
We all share the same goal toward ensuring our residents are safe and keeping public health at the top of our minds during this public health emergency.
I applaud the tribes for their collaboration and partnership.”
The closures were originally slated to last only two weeks, but Lamont has since said plans to reopen Connecticut’s non-essential businesses will be reevaluated on May 20 at the earliest.
Local Governments Struggling Under Casino Closures
Given the economic and employment engine created in Connecticut – where 1 percent of the workforce has historically been employed by the two casinos – local communities are buckling under the weight of coronavirus closures.
With no legal online / mobile options to supplement the suddenly absent land-based revenue streams at Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments (SCCOG) asked Lamont to temporarily allow iGaming in Connecticut.
In a letter dated April 1, SCCOG chairman Mark Nickerson – the first selectman of East Lyme, located less than 20 minutes from both casinos – outlined the case for an economically motivated iGaming order:
“This public health emergency has altered their livelihood in an unprecedented way.
We need to do everything we can to assure that they are able to survive now and thrive again in the future.
This is why we … are respectfully requesting that you issue an Executive Order to allow the two casinos to begin utilization of online gaming during this time that they have voluntarily closed their doors.”
The letter was backed up by signatures from all 22 members of the SCCOG, which is made up of top elected officials from local towns, cities, and boroughs.
Two days later, Lamont responded with a letter of his own which roundly rejected the Connecticut Tribal iGaming legalization request:
“While I very much share the concerns you express about the financial distress the pandemic is causing our Tribal partners, I must decline your specific request.
Authorizing online gaming and enabling consumers to more easily access gambling is a significant policy decision that has not yet been embraced or acted upon by our legislature.
Doing so at a time when so many Connecticut residents are in financial distress would be a particularly significant policy decision to make without legislative approval.”
Governor’s Office and Tribes Can’t See Eye to Eye on Any Gaming Issue
Lamont has a history of siding against tribal gaming exclusivity in Connecticut, where the two tribes enjoy a monopoly on land-based casino gambling in a lucrative and mutually beneficial arrangement that sends $250 million in slot machine revenue share to state coffers each year.
Last month, the Governor endorsed a controversial sports betting bill that would allow the state lottery and third-party bookmakers to join casinos in offering legal sports betting- a bill which the tribes vehemently oppose.
Foxwoods normally has approximately 11,500 employees to 8,000 for Mohegan Sun, but between both venues, 12,000 workers have been laid off or furloughed since the closures last month.
In their letter to Lamont, the tribes and the SCCOG pointed to the thousands out of work who stand to benefit from Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun remaining financially viable:
“This revenue source will help them immediately offset the losses they are facing.
It will help get people back to work more quickly when the pandemic ends.
It will help assure that the many municipalities that depend on revenue from the Pequot Fund are able to continue to receive this much needed funding.”
Despite that appeal, however, Lamont pointed to the multiple regulatory and governmental approvals required before such an executive order could ever be implemented.