Representatives of the two Indian casinos told lawmakers Thursday they would welcome an opportunity to provide online gaming, but lawmakers told them they have no plans to introduce legislation.
Members of the Mohegans and Mashantucket Pequot Tribes spoke Thursday at the legislature’s Public Safety Committee hearing on the issue. The hearing was the latest in an ongoing discussion set in motion by a U.S. Justice Department decision late last year that opened the doors for states to legalize online gambling within their borders.
Robert Clark, special council to the attorney general, said the Justice Department decision does nothing to change Connecticut’s law prohibiting online gambling and “legislation would clearly be required” to legalize it.
However, committee co-chairman Rep. Stephen Dargan, D- West Haven, said he doesn’t plan on raising a bill.
“The leadership of this committee has no thought of introducing any bills with online gaming because we are in the infancy stage of trying to understand this issue,” he said.
At an unrelated event, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said it is “highly unlikely” he will propose a bill. While Malloy said the discussion over the issue needed to be started, he said “clearly there’s not a lot of excitement” about it.
After the hearing, Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R- Fairfield, issued a statement praising the committee’s decision not to raise a gambling bill.
“I don’t believe that putting a 24/7 electronic casino in every house in CT so the government can profit from it is the way to solve our budget crisis,” he said.
McKinney maintained that the best way to regulate online gaming in Connecticut would be to enforce the laws banning, not legalize it.
But if there were such a bill, the tribes said they would support it.
Chuck Bunnell of the Mohegan Tribal Council told legislators that online gambling is already happening in Connecticut and the state’s casinos are facing increased competition as other states move to build their own.
“We are doing all that we can to remain competitive in this new and emerging environment,” he said.
Bunnell said that after travelling to other countries where online gaming is successfully regulated, the Mohegans stand ready to enter the market.
The tribe would like to be authorized to offer online poker, he said, but they have concerns that offering all their games online would erode patronage to the Mohegan Sun casino.
Meanwhile, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe told lawmakers they would like to be able to offer their full suite of games online.
Joseph Colebut, chairman of the Foxwoods Development Company, said the tribe doesn’t believe that the online gaming crowd would cannibalize from the group of people who regularly frequent the casino.
“The online player is a different animal, a different breed, if you will. They’re much younger,” he said.
Colebut said the players who go to the brick and mortar casinos are typically in their 50s or older but online players tend to be in their 40s. However, Bunnell said the Mohegans would oppose anything that considered allowing games other than poker.
Anshu Kalhan, Foxwoods Development Company’s director of development, said that if there were an effort to allow only poker, the Pequots would absolutely support it.
“Things are moving into the digital world and if poker is the entree to get involved with that, we’d be satisfied with it,” he said.
Both tribes agreed that if the state allowed any other businesses to offer online gambling in Connecticut, it would likely violate their compact with the state for exclusive gambling rights.
“We believe that our agreements with the state give us exclusivity to casino style games within your borders and we pay dearly for that—$2.5 billion over the last 15 years,” Bunnell said.
If online gambling were legal, lawmakers on the committee wanted to know how the casinos would go about preventing children from gambling. Kalhan said online gambling would be much easier to regulate if it were legal. Currently, it represents an illegal industry that generated $3.25 billion worth of revenue in 2010 and has little in the way of safeguards.
“Given the unregulated nature of the business, protections are currently very minimal,” he said. “… These sites are rarely enforcing any sort of stringent age verification programs and this leaves children at risk of being able to get online.”
Anyone with a credit card in hand can get online and deposit funds, he said. Frank Pracukowski, director of administration at Foxwoods Development, said European countries have developed software that asks players a series of security questions before they are allowed to gamble.
The questions, which change each time, are related to things a child is unlikely to know, he said. The program may ask for the adults social security number, their first registered vehicle, or credit information, he said.
“If you were to ask a young child, he would attempt to log on and they could quickly determine that based on the social security number, he’s not of age,” he said.
Bunnell said it’s also easier to spot a problem gambler online than it is in an actual casino. With traditional gambling, players move from table to table or stop at different convenience stores for lottery tickets, making them difficult to monitor, he said.
“They’re at one site where I know exactly what their play is and I know exactly how many hands they’ve played, what they’ve wagered, when they’re wagering. It’s actually easier to do it if it’s all on a computer,” he said. “… There are some very, very bright people who have designed these programs and look for these signs.”
Sen. Joan Hartley, D- Waterbury, said there are also some very bright players who may find ways around the safeguards.
“Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” she said.
Carlos Reinoso, Jr., coordinator for the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling, said he didn’t buy the suggestion that it is easier to spot a problem gambler online. Online, people can be isolated in their own home or dorm room, with no one to stop them from gambling, he said.
“Who’s stopping them? Compared to being in a casino sometimes when somebody says, ‘You know what? I think you’ve had enough.’ Nobody is around them sometimes, when it comes to online gambling people are very isolated,” he said.
Reinoso said if the state does take any action to legalize Internet gambling the council wants to have seat at the table to ensure that there are adequate protections in place to ensure children don’t develop gambling problems.