HARTFORD, CT — (Updated 4:18 p.m.) Lawmakers from different regions of the state who had previously been at odds over casino expansion have joined forces with the state’s two tribes to come up with a proposal to build a Bridgeport casino and three entertainment zones.
The legislation, which was posted online Wednesday morning, authorizes an entertainment and gaming facility in Bridgeport, calling for a minimum investment by the two tribes of $100 million. The bill would also allow the tribes to take part in the development of entertainment zones in Hartford and two other cities that would be selected by the tribes. Each facility would create 100 jobs.
The bill would further give the tribes the exclusive right to sports wagering in Connecticut, which is currently not defined as part of their compacts with the state. Sports wagering would be taxed at 8% while internet gaming would be taxed at 10%.
The bill also authorizes the Connecticut Lottery to offer the sale of lottery tickets online and through software applications, and also to offer iKeno as well.
“This legislation brought all the components together and deals with all of the issues that have been brought up as reasons why not to do it,” Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, said.
She said the decision to give exclusive rights for sports wagering to the tribes was “to support two of our largest employers and our largest revenue generators for the state of Connecticut.”
MGM Resorts International, which has been lobbying the state for at least two years to allow it to open up a casino in Bridgeport, is not included in the legislation.
“MGM is not a Connecticut employer,” Osten said.
MGM has sued the state for giving the tribes permission to build a casino in East Windsor, which is a 15 minute drive from MGM’s new casino that opened in 2018 in Springfield, Mass. A federal judge threw out the case in 2016, calling the injury to MGM “purely speculative” because the East Windsor casino had yet to be built.
Today, the East Windsor Tribal Winds casino has yet to be built, but supporters of the project like Rep. Chris Davis, R-East Windsor, said the two years it spent in limbo because of the lack of clarity from the federal government caused the tribes to have to rebid their construction projects and secure financing.
“Bridgeport is finally realizing that all of the false promises made by MGM never came to fruition,” Davis said. “Most likely they never had a true desire to do anything in Bridgeport and their desire all along was to delay the opening of the East Windsor casino.”
Rep. Christopher Rosario, D-Bridgeport, said the “legislation is a great example of what we can accomplish when we work together, regardless of our party affiliation or the chamber we serve.”
Rosario continued: “By investing in our cities, we can create new destinations that will spur additional development and create not only jobs but also vibrant urban centers. I’m proud to support this bill and urge other elected leaders to join the fight.”
Osten said she believes the new legislation offers a global solution.
Gov. Ned Lamont isn’t necessarily convinced.
“I do have an ongoing concern that sports betting and online gambling has been locked up with a legal cloud hanging over it for awhile,” Lamont said.
He said he wants to avoid litigation if at all possible.
“If this gets stuck in the legal muck like it has for the last five years, we’re not going to show any progress,” Lamont said.
He said he worries if they come up with a partial solution it will lead to another round of litigation.
“There is a solution that would avoid litigation and that is my priority,” Lamont said.
In a statement sent following a morning press conference, Lamont said, “Further, this proposed bill falls short of what the governor wants for Bridgeport — a bill that only authorizes versus requires a meaningful project in Bridgeport is not good enough.”
Giving the tribes exclusive rights to sports wagering could lead to another round of litigation, this time from Sportech, which operates 16 pari-mutuel wagering venues in Connecticut, or another commercial casino operator, like Caesars, which hired a Connecticut lobbyist this year because of its interest in sports betting operations here.
Rich Broome, a spokesman for Caesars, said earlier this year that the Vegas gaming organization is only interested in sports betting.
“Simply put, any Sports Betting licensing should be awarded equally to current State gambling operators,” Richard McGuire, CEO of Sportech, said. “Any deviation from that creates legal challenge and does a massive disservice to the constituents of Connecticut. A monopoly to deliver Sports, or even a duopoly provided by only the Tribes, would not be in the best interests of Connecticut or Connecticut consumers.”
He said the bills runs the risk of unnecessary legal challenges.
The Connecticut Lottery has also expressed an interest in sports wagering.
“We have seen the latest bill and saw similar proposals this past spring that seemed to favor tribal exclusivity,” Greg Smith, president and CEO of the CT Lottery, said. “The CT Lottery expects to remain part of the conversation going forward.”
As far as a special session to deal with this issue, it’s uncertain if that would happen.
Osten said she would like to see a special session, but she doesn’t have the power to make that decision.
“As with any request for a special session, Senate Democratic leadership will consult leadership in the House and the Governor’s office before making a decision,” said Kevin Coughlin, director of communications for Connecticut Senate Democrats.