HARTFORD, CT — It’s unlikely the state of Connecticut will take steps necessary to allow sports betting to begin this year.
Outgoing Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Wednesday that he was close of reaching a deal with the two federally recognized tribes, who have exclusivity over gaming in Connecticut. However, Republican lawmakers who would be asked to ratify any agreement are unwilling to let that happen.
“Three weeks ago we were within days of reaching an agreement so … I don’t think circumstances have changed dramatically, except that the Republicans in the legislature have indicated they don’t have a desire to come into session,” Malloy said.
Deputy Republican House Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, said Wednesday that he thinks both parties are hesitant to come back for a special session on an issue as broad as sports betting and online gaming.
“The issue is significant and should be vetted through a public hearing process in January,” Candelora said.
He said if Connecticut didn’t have to negotiate with its tribal partners then it would have been much easier to move forward with the issue.
“We’re talking about a compact that claims exclusivity to sports betting that needs to be renegotiated,” Candelora said.
If the governor was able to reach a deal with the tribes then the legislature would need to approve it and then the Bureau of Indian Affairs would have up to 90 days to make a decision on an amendment to the agreements the tribes have with the state.
Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said he would have liked the legislature to address the issue sooner rather than later because it’s leaving revenue on the table.
“It’s a process that’s going to take time anyway,” Looney said.
He said if they don’t begin this process until January they’re not going to see any revenue from sports betting in fiscal year 2019.
But with a divided state Senate it’s unlikely anything will happen if Republicans are unwilling to allow it to go forward.
Candelora said when Connecticut decided to allow the game of Keno off tribal land, the tribes got 25 percent of the revenue from the game “for doing absolutely nothing.” Candelora said he didn’t believe that was the best deal the governor could have gotten.
“He [Malloy] doesn’t have a good track record of negotiating deals with the tribes,” Candelora said.
The tribes were given exclusivity over gaming in Connecticut 25 years ago in exchange for 25 percent of slot revenue. Any amendment to those agreements would need to be approved by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
However, there were questions raised by Attorney General George Jepsen in April about whether sports betting was even contemplated in those agreements and whether the state needs tribal approval to move forward.
In a formal opinion, Jepsen said legalizing sports betting 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.”