HARTFORD, CT — A bill legalizing sports betting in Connecticut never made it to the finish line in 2018, but proponents are hoping for a different result this year.
There are at least two bills before the General Assembly proposing legalizing sports gambling this year, and both are up for a public hearing Tuesday in the Public Safety and Security Committee.
One bill doesn’t say how the state plans to move forward. It simply calls for changes to Connecticut’s laws to allow for sports wagering.
The other bill gives the two federally recognized Indian Tribes and their casinos in southeastern Connecticut the right to offer sports gaming and expands Keno to the internet through an agreement between the tribes and the Connecticut Lottery Corporation.
Sports betting wasn’t part of Gov. Ned Lamont’s two-year budget unveiled Wednesday but in his address to the legislature he did say: “Beyond the two-year budget, we must enact new sources of revenues, such as sports betting and internet wagering.”
Asked to elaborate, Lamont’s spokesperson, David Bednarz said only: “Governor Lamont is open to any dialogue with legislators, stakeholders, businesses and residents to determine what will work best for Connecticut and put the state on a sustainable path forward.”
Rhode Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware already offer some form of legalized sports gambling. Rhode Island quickly moved to pass legislation last year after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal law that made most sports gambling illegal outside of Las Vegas.
Under the agreement reached in Rhode Island, the state will get 51 percent of the revenue from sports betting; the vendor 32 percent, and the casino housing the bets 17 percent. The Rhode Island Department of Revenue has estimated that the state can pull in about $23 million annually from sports betting — some of which is expected to come from Connecticut bettors crossing the border to gamble.
When the issue was discussed in Connecticut last year, House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said legalized sports betting could bring in $40 million to $80 million a year to cash-starved Connecticut.
Aresimowicz said last year that any legislation on sports gambling that is brought up in Connecticut has several moving parts to factor in — such as the casinos, lottery, fantasy leagues and more.
Currently, the state and the tribes have a compact in which the state receives 25 percent of slot revenue from the two casinos in exchange for giving the tribes exclusive gaming rights. That deal, depending upon whom you talk to, would have to be redone under any sports betting agreement.
Former Attorney General George Jepsen opined last year that 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.”
But no one seems to want to leave the tribes out of the equation. At the same time everyone seems to want a piece of the action.
Caesars hired a Connecticut lobbyist this year because it’s interested in sports betting.
Rich Broome, a spokesman for Caesars, said the Vegas gaming organization is only interested in sports betting.
The Connecticut Lottery and Sportech, which operates 16 pari-mutuel wagering venues in Connecticut, also would like to offer sports betting.
Two officials of major professional sports leagues were in Hartford last week to answer questions from legislators and reporters about how professional sports leagues interact with states that allow gaming.
At the state capitol was Bryan Seeley, in charge of compliance and security for Major League Baseball, and Andy Levinson, a senior vice president with the PGA golf tour.
“Our job is to make sure any legislation enacted protects sports fans and the integrity of the game,” said Seeley.
Both Levinson and Seeley said that since it is only months since the Supreme Court ruling freed states to explore sports betting, there are still a lot of unknowns.
For instance, to protect against any potential fraud, Levinson said, it is important states put in policies “to help police activity and to allow the professional sports to help in that effort.”
Those policies, according to Levinson and Seeley, will have to include protections for bettors accessing information from their mobile devices.
The public hearing begins at 10 a.m. Tuesday. Expansion of casino gaming is also on the agenda.