HARTFORD, CT—Two big-time major league sports stars came to the state Capitol Tuesday to try and kickstart the effort to pass sports betting legislation before the close of the legislative session.
Boston Celtics legend and current Celtics team broadcaster Cedric Maxwell and former New York Mets and New York Yankees star and current MLB Network broadcaster Al Leiter made a stop in Hartford to give a push to a sports betting bill currently on the House calendar.
Maxwell said he believes Connecticut is a step ahead of other states on sports gambling “because the casinos are here already.”
Maxwell, and Leiter, both said they think that sports gambling is something that is good for both basketball and baseball – and other sports – as long as its regulated properly.
“You have to make sure that there is protection in place for the integrity of the sport – a lot of protection for everyone involved,” Leiter said.
If gambling were approved in Connecticut or anywhere else, Leiter said he believes players understand the dangers involved and would steer clear of trouble.
“Everyone has heard of Pete Rose,” Leiter said, referring to the baseball’s all-time hit king whose legacy has been stained and has been banned from the Hall of Fame because it was proven that he bet on baseball while a player.
“You don’t want to give a black-eye to your sport,” added Maxwell.
Even though Maxwell and Leiter were in Hartford to lend their support to sports gambling in Connecticut, just last week House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said the odds of passing legislation before the close of the legislative session aren’t good.
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. “We need to figure out what’s best for Connecticut.”
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.
Accompanying Maxwell and Leiter at Tuesday’s press conference was major league baseball’s Senior Vice President of League Economics Morgan Sword.
Sword said baseball would ideally prefer some sort of “federal statute” concerning sports gambling “because that would bring some consistency across all the states.”
But he agreed that nothing is likely to happen until the pending Supreme Court ruling.
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.
Seven 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.”
Aresimowicz has 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 last week Aresimowicz had grown more pessimistic.
“I would not be surprised if nothing is passed,” he said last week. 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 gambling, 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, Aresimowicz and lawmakers also wanted to know what would happen if the Supreme Court finds a ban on sports betting is unconstitutional. Would the tribes have the exclusive right to sports betting too?
Attorney General George Jepsen in an opinion he released last week said it would not affect the existing gaming arrangements with the tribes.
“Sports betting is not listed as an authorized game,” Jepsen said. “By contrast, for example, pari-mutuel betting on horse and dog racing and jai alai games are authorized games. The exclusion of sports betting from the specific list of authorized games is compelling evidence that the Compacts do not presently authorize it.”
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.