Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz and House Majority Leader Matt Ritter (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT—The odds of passing legislation concerning new casinos and legalized sports betting before the close of the legislative session, May 9, aren’t good, according to House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin.

Aresimowicz said that casino expansion and sports betting in Connecticut is a “complex issue that needs to have a comprehensive strategy” before being enacted.

“There are just so many moving parts,” Aresimowicz said at a briefing with reporters before the House met Tuesday morning. “We need to figure out what’s best for Connecticut.”

On the issue of casino expansion, Aresimowicz said there are “dueling reports” that need to be sifted through to figure out where a new casino should be built by the state and who it should be operated by.

A year ago, the General Assembly passed a law that allowed the tribal operators of Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun to jointly establish a satellite gaming venue in East Windsor.

The move was pushed as a response to protect state revenue and jobs in the face of the opening this fall of MGM Resorts International $960 million casino in Springfield, Mass.

But last month after hearing hours of testimony about opening up the bidding process for a commercial casino in Bridgeport and scrapping the East Windsor casino, the Public Safety and Security Committee passed a bill, which would allow both plans to move forward.

Meanwhile, MGM wrote the governor’s office to tell him they are “willing to participate in multiparty talks that will allow the policy considerations to be placed in their proper context as the state considers how to adapt and modernize its gaming laws.” 

On the issue of overall sports betting, House Democratic leaders have repeatedly stated they want to make sure Connecticut is poised jump into the sports betting world if the U.S. Supreme Court rules that states can legalize it.

That ruling, Aresimowicz said, is likely to come in late May or beginning of June. He added that he expects the court will rule to allow states to open up sports betting venues.

The case the court is due to rule on is Christie v. NCAA.

Six weeks ago at a press conference on sports betting, Aresimowciz said:  “If the court opens up this extremely popular market to the states, Connecticut should be ready to go from both a regulatory and operational standpoint. The odds may be changing, and we need to look ahead and be ready for what the future of gaming will look like.”

To do that the legislature would need to pass legislation.

Aresimowicz said legalized sports betting could bring in “$40 to $80 million a year” to cash-starved Connecticut. He noted that the state of Rhode Island has built its next fiscal year budget adding in $23 million in anticipated sports betting funding it would receive if the court rules in favor of the states.

But on Tuesday, Aresimowicz was pessimistic.

“I would not be surprised if nothing is passed,” he said. He said part of the problem is that it isn’t as simple as just voting to legalize sports betting. Any legislation that is passed has to factor in casino gaming, the lottery, fantasy leagues, and more, Aresimowicz said.

Christie v. NCAA is on its face a case about sports gambling. Congress passed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) in 1992, prohibiting most states from enacting laws that legalize betting on sports. The law grandfathered in Nevada, Montana, Delaware and Oregon, all of which had already set up sports lotteries before PASPA passed.

The rest of the country had a one-year grace period in which they could pass legislation that would allow gambling on sports.

In November 2011, New Jersey voters passed an amendment to the state constitution allowing state lawmakers to enact legislation making gambling on sports legal. The Sports Wagering Act was signed into law in January 2012, allowing casinos and racetracks to take bets on college and professional sporting events.

The four major sports leagues in the country – the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL – joined the NCAA in challenging New Jersey’s new law in federal court.

So New Jersey’s legislature went back to work, looking for a way to pass a law that would put into action the voters’ referendum while still obeying the federal appeals court’s decision.

In 2014, the legislature decided that instead of passing a law allowing for the licensing of casinos and racetracks, it would repeal the laws requiring casinos and racetracks to be licensed to accept sports bets.

That set off the current round of litigation. The leagues again sued and the federal district court and the Third Circuit enjoined New Jersey’s law, saying it, too, violated PASPA. New Jersey appealed to the Supreme Court, where it argues that by prohibiting states from repealing laws already on their books, PASPA commandeers state governments.

Meanwhile, in Connecticut any agreement on sports betting would have to involve the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan Tribal Nation, who have exclusive agreements with Connecticut over gaming.

Currently the state and the tribes have a compact in which the state receives 25 percent of slot revenue in exchange for exclusive casino rights.

Aresimowicz called the tribes “good partners,” but added that much has changed with gambling since the compact was originally signed. He said he anticipated the tribes would be part of discussions concerning sports betting when and if the legislation advances.

Pre-session briefing with the Democratic legislative leaders

Pre-session briefing with the Democratic legislative leaders, live from

Posted by on Tuesday, April 10, 2018