Connecticut Legislators Weigh Online Casino Gaming Laws
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Connecticut Legislators Weigh Online Casino Gaming Laws

Connecticut Legislators Weigh Online Casino Gaming Laws

Connecticut lawmakers are questioning their policy shift over sports gambling in the state.

Sports betting has been the main focus of Gov. Ned Lamont disputes the terms of expansion with the state’s tribes.

Although legislation proposed by Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague is favored by the tribes and allows for online casino games, Lamont, as well as some of the tribes’ allies, are highly opposed. 

Rep. Caroline Simmons, D-Stamford, told The CT Mirror: “I think we need to be cautious. It’s a major policy shift.” Simmons is the co-chair of the legislature’s Commerce Committee and a supporter of legalizing sports betting.

She outlined her bill at a press conference in front of Senate Democratic leaders and rank-and-file lawmakers of both parties on January 29. Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, however, thought it important that no-one assume every attendee backs the entire bill. “I’m not sure everyone else is, but I am,” he said.

While some, such as Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, support the entire bill, complications still stand over online casino games.

Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, said he would like the tribes to hold exclusive rights to sports betting, but wanted to investigate the legalization of online casino games more before endorsing the move.

Osten said she sees online gaming as a crucial part of the bill in order to draw wider support across the General Assembly as it is thought to be a lucrative move for both the tribes and the state.

“The only way to get the revenue to the towns is to put the iGaming piece there, and that’s why it’s all in there,” Osten said.

Online gaming would allow Connecticut residents to play their favorite table games and slots from their desktop or mobile devices.

Lamont’s thoughts on Osten’s bill were made public last week by the administration, making clear that the governor favors a competing bill that would set terms opposed by the tribes.

The bill would open the playing field for sports betting at two tribal casinos, but the rights to bookmaking outside of those two venues would be shared by the tribes, the Connecticut Lottery and Sportech.

Chairman of the Mashantucket Pequots Rodney Butler released a written statement on March 5th, complaining Lamont had given the tribes a take-it-or-leave-it offer.

He wrote: “We are at a loss to explain the timing and tone of the statement issued by Governor Lamont on Tuesday. While he refers to his attempt to negotiate a ‘gaming solution,’ the Governor and his staff have had little to no communication with the Tribes over the last several months — despite our repeated attempts to meet.

Butler added that he rejects the governor’s proposal but will work with any party which seeks to work with the tribes on a path forward for gaming. 

Online gambling revenue would be an important enticement for the tribes to spend $100 million on a casino in Bridgeport, a small venue offering gambling favorites. Although Lamont once favored the new casino, it has been announced that the governor is no longer seeking to make it happen.

Even if Osten’s bill was to pass, the governor’s communications director Max Reiss has said Lamont will not sign it. 

Reiss added: “To remedy an issue that has been plagued by litigation, the Governor put forward a proposal to enable the tribes to conduct sports betting on and off their reservations — but would also authorize the other incumbent gaming operators to do so outside the tribes’ reservations.''

Last year, tax on gross slots revenues from the tribes generated $255 million for the state.

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