The Public Safety and Security Committee approved three bills Wednesday aimed at legalizing online gambling and sports betting in Connecticut following last week’s agreement between the governor’s office and the state’s federally-recognized tribes.
The committee has been weighing the expansion of gambling in Connecticut this year with the expectation that Gov. Ned Lamont would negotiate a deal with the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes who have exclusive rights to casino games in the state.
The deal, announced last week, would allow Connecticut residents to bet on sports as well as gamble and buy lottery tickets online. It would tax online revenue at 18% for the first five years and at 20% for the next five years. It would impose a tax on sports wagering at 13.75%, and allow the Connecticut Lottery to operate 15 retail sports betting locations, including venues in Hartford and Bridgeport.
The agreement will have to be approved by the legislature and, eventually, the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs. The bills advanced by the Public Safety and Security Committee Wednesday were the first step in that process.
Rep. Maria Horn, a Salisbury Democrat who is co-chairwoman of the committee, said they were still works in progress but had to be voted on ahead of the panel’s Thursday deadline for passing bills. Horn and others noted the historic nature of the deal’s advancement after years of negotiations.
“This has been a long time coming,” she said.
Although there is generally bipartisan support for the expansion, there were points of contention during Wednesday’s meeting.
Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford, said that by negotiating exclusively with the tribes and the Connecticut Lottery, the state had frozen out other, potentially more profitable parties.
“I think that the public, If we’re going to do this, should be at the table. That I should be able to apply to run a sports betting operation. Maybe I’ll pay the government more. I think everyone should have that opportunity,” he said.
Fishbein echoed the position of Sportech, Connecticut’s state-licensed parimutuel operator. The company, which runs off-track-betting locations in the state, had sought to have a role in the agreement and has threatened litigation over the deal announced by the tribes and the Lamont administration.
The agreement does give the Lottery the ability to sub-license sports betting locations to Sportech.
In forging the agreement, Horn said the state had to strike a difficult balance and consider its long standing agreement with the tribes, giving them rights to casino gambling and sending 25% of their slot machine profits back to the state.
“There was a tricky legal needle to be thread here because we also faced potential litigation from tribes,” she said.
Another element of the deal formally tabled a previously-approved project in which the tribes planned to construct a casino in East Windsor to compete with MGM casino in Springfield, Mass. A separate bill passed Wednesday by the committee gave the tribes the option of building a casino in Bridgeport.
Lawmakers representing East Windsor objected to scrapping the project and largely opposed the bills because of the provision.
“I’m struggling with this piece that endorses the governor’s deal with the tribes, of course the piece that eliminates the [East Windsor] casino,” Rep. Carol Hall, R-Enfield, said.
Sen. Cathy Osten, a Sprague Democrat whose district contains both Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casino, agreed with Hall.
“To be clear, I don’t think the governor should have included East Windsor in the discussions at all. A prior legislature approved that,” Osten said.