Connecticut Debates Gambling Measures for a Fifth Year

Legislation, US

Connecticut has not been successful with regard to voting on online gaming & sports betting bills. Let’s try it once again, maybe 2019 will be the year.

Sports betting in Connecticut (CT) is not the most important part of the conversation – or at least, it wasn’t until May, 2018 when a handful of things happened.

To understand Connecticut, though, we need to trace back events to their very source. If we’ll just recap very quickly, then it would be enough to say that the CT tribes of Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan have been pitted against traditional casino brands, such as MGM – and most recently, Caesars Entertainment.

The battle has been merciless with lobbyism reaching Washington D.C. and politicians stepping down from office over suspicions that they had played dirty to get their way and by extension – that of whoever was paying them.

Let’s give some context first.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Connecticut’s Gambling

Back in 2016, the tribes of Connecticut obtained a license that would allow them to compete with the then-in-construction Springfield resort.

After negotiating favourable terms with Connecticut, operators were on the cusp of starting their own rival project, only to find out that MGM Resorts had played dirty, going to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

Zinke managed to block the project through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, but he has since paid a dear price, apparently getting his hands in too many things that were too sticky. And so, the state’s gambling lore has its good and bad actors, and thanks to Mr. Zinke’s avarice – an ugly one.

What’s rather ironic is that MGM Springfield, despite its glamorous grand opening, has turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. The property was opened in the summer of 2018, with tons of people attending and quite a few tricks prepared. However, results weren’t at all that impressive, with the Springfield property posting sub-$27m sums as of September, 2018. Mr. Zinke’s efforts have been for naught it turned out.

Time for Action in 2019

The tribes have much to be unhappy with MGM about. But 2019 is time for progress. With sports betting roaring across the United States, despite the many piling problems, a new piece of legislation has come to lawmakers’ attention.

Enter Bill 17, an ambitious plan to legalize sports betting in the state, sponsored by a number of legislators on both sides of the political spectrum.

The Bill is a perfect summary of everything that the tribes want to achieve in light of a very belligerent MGM Resorts. Bill 17 postulates that sports betting and internet gambling should all be legalized, turning a fresh page in the history of the state’s rueful gaming history.

Only two pages long, the bill outlines the plans of legislators and lawmakers, clearly stating the purpose of the mulled legislation:

  • To provide for additional revenues and jobs from the operation of sports wagering, Internet gambling and Internet Keno
  • To enhance the revenue to the state from agreements between the state and federally recognized Indian tribes in Connecticut
  • To ensure that Connecticut’s gaming and tourism industries remain competitive with those in surrounding states
  • To ensure age and physical location verification for participation in Internet gaming

All of this perfectly captures the ambitions of the state to forge ahead with sports betting. Even the newly-inaugurated CT Gov. Ned Lamont has been eager to finally get this issue behind his back. Mr. Lamont has explained that the urgency and complexity of the issue makes ruling on backing either party a dangerous precedent.

There’s been talk about too many actors at play, a quasi-Mexican stand-off in which pleasing one party would get you a smack from the other camp in the very least. Politics being such a sensitive thing in the United States, and people in public office often being supported by companies, it’s understandable hat Mr. Lamont just wants this to be over with.

Foreseeable End for Mr. Lamont’s Troubles?

In all honesty, Connecticut’s MGM-tribal dispute has been the main deterrent in embracing sports betting and online gaming in full. After all, the state has had a bill in the books since 2017, but it has been way too vague to be put into action.

Subject to almost one’s own interpretation, there have been no efforts to pursue a course towards legalization – just the enmity between two irate camps and those caught in the middle trying to assuage both parties, presenting them with reason.

This being said, 2019 seems to have started on a good foot with Bill 17 charting a very simple but actionable plan for the months ahead.

Mr. Lamont might just get a break from worrying about being caught in the middle of a conflict that has been going since at least 2016.

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