In his budget address, Gov. Ned Lamont reiterated his support for the legalization of sports betting and online gaming Wednesday while offering no details about how that’s going to be achieved.
He submitted a bill that merely states he has the authority to enter into amendments to the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes’ existing gaming agreements with the state or new compacts with either or both of the tribes concerning “the operation of sports wagering, e-sports and daily fantasy contests both on and off tribal lands” as well as online casino gaming and online keno.
Lamont’s budget proposal assumes $47.3 million from “such expansion of gaming” in the 2023 fiscal year, the second year of his two-year spending plan.
“The Governor firmly believes that we must recognize the evolving nature of various markets and respond accordingly to ensure our state’s competitiveness while providing opportunities to our citizens,” the proposal says. “In addition, our state has had a long and fruitful partnership with the two tribal nations in our state and seeks to build on that partnership through the introduction of sports gaming and on-line casino gaming. Connecticut should not leave these opportunities for other states to benefit from our inaction. Our neighbors are enacting laws to allow this and we need to keep pace to modernize our gaming industry.”
No new light was shed on how the tribes’ claim to have the exclusive right to provide sports betting and online gaming will be resolved. Both Sportech Venues, the state’s off-track betting operator, and the Connecticut Lottery Corp. have lobbied for a piece of the action.
“Those matters are under discussion,” Melissa McCaw, secretary of the state Office of Policy and Management, said during a virtual news conference following Lamont’s address. She said the $47.3 million in projected gaming revenue represents what sports betting on and off the tribes’ reservations and online casino gaming would be expected to generate.
Under their existing agreements, the tribes, respective owners of Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun, contribute 25% of their casinos’ slot-machine revenues to the state in exchange for the exclusive right to operate casino gaming.
State Sen. Cathy Osten, the Sprague Democrat who has authored a bill calling for the governor to authorize the tribes to provide sports betting and online gaming as well as for the lottery to provide online ticket sales, said she was disappointed with Lamont’s proposal, which she described as “a placeholder.”
Representatives of the two tribes indicated that an agreement with the governor may be at hand.
“… Our collective teams have been working collaboratively for weeks to develop a proposal that treats all parties fair and will pass muster with both tribal councils, the legislature, and the Department of the Interior,” Rodney Butler, the Mashantucket chairman, wrote in an email. “The bill released today by the governor outlines at a high level all of the key initiatives on the table as the teams continue to work through the details. I believe the governor’s efforts today reinforce his commitment to modernizing Connecticut’s gaming economy and creating a significant new revenue stream to the benefit of all of our great citizens.”
Chuck Bunnell, the Mohegans’ chief of staff, said representatives of the tribes and the governor’s office recently have started communicating daily, including during vacations and on weekends, sometimes several times a day.
“Mohegan leadership is encouraged by the commitment of all the governments involved and hopeful that we will come to a result that benefits all of our constituents,” he said.
James Gessner Jr., the Mohegan chairman, said the $47.3 million Lamont has allocated in the second year of his budget proposal “is very much achievable through an agreement with the tribal nations.”
Ted Taylor, president of Sportech Venues, had no immediate comment on the governor’s budget proposal. A spokeswoman for the Connecticut Lottery Corp. referred inquiries to the governor’s office.