Who could operate sports betting in Connecticut? Tribes, MGM, CT Lottery, off-track locations all angle for piece of new industry
By Alex Putterman
Senate Democrats offered a glimpse Wednesday of how legal sports betting might work in Connecticut, announcing a bill that would establish casinos and off-track betting sites as operators of the potentially lucrative industry.
The new bill lacks details, which will be filled in at a later date, but it lends some insight into the fundamental question Connecticut lawmakers must work through as they seek to legalize sports betting: Who gets to take the wagers?
Some legislators believe Connecticut’s Native-owned casinos should control sports betting in the state, as proposed in a separate bill submitted by members of the southeastern Connecticut delegation. Others support expanding the industry to a wider range of operators. The issue will eventually be decided at the capitol — as well as in negotiations between Lamont and tribal leaders.
Here are some of the parties who could wind up operating sports betting in Connecticut.
The Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes
One way or another, the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes — operators of Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort Casino, respectively — will control a large slice of Connecticut’s sports-betting industry. The tribes claim an exclusive right to offer sports betting under their compacts with the state, and a bill proposed in January would make them the sole operator of both in-person and online gambling. Under a deal with the state, the tribes also hope to operate a third casino in East Windsor.
“It’s clear to us that sports betting is a game that is a casino game, and from that perspective it falls under our exclusivity,” Mashantucket Pequot chairman Rodney Butler said. “We’re open to having a broader conversation and seeing how we can get this across the finish line quickly for the state.”
The tribes argue that even if sports betting spreads to other operators, it shouldn’t extend too far.
“We need to make sure that this industry, which is unregulated now, is regulated tightly,” Mohegan chief of staff Chuck Bunnell said recently. “[We support] limiting the number of people who are involved in it and limiting the places where you can do it to very tightly regulated folks that understand the industry.”
The conversation around sports betting in Connecticut exists within a larger debate about gambling within the state. Some legislators, particularly in eastern Connecticut, say the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot should retain exclusive rights to casino gambling, while others suggest opening the industry to other vendors, such as MGM, which has fought fruitlessly to secure a casino in Bridgeport. The two sides appear poised to clash during the current legislative session.
MGM already offers sports betting in casinos in Nevada, New Jersey and Mississippi, and the company will cite its experience there as an extra reason Connecticut might benefit from its presence in the state. Even if MGM doesn’t land its desired casino in Bridgeport, it could seek to offer mobile betting in Connecticut, as it does in Nevada and New Jersey.
“As a market leader in sports wagering, MGM Resorts has invested in products and technologies to create a cutting-edge experience that moves customers from the unregulated black market to the legal, regulated market,” MGM spokesperson Bernard Kavaler said in a statement. "We look forward to working with all stakeholders as the Connecticut legislature considers sports wagering legislation.”
Connecticut Lottery Corporation
Of the seven states with legal sports betting, three (Rhode Island, Delaware, West Virginia) have delegated operation to the local lotteries. But whereas lotteries in those states simply oversee betting that takes place in casinos, the CT Lottery has broader ambitions: to host some form of sports betting all around the state, including at convenience stores and bars.
“If the purposes for offering sports betting in Connecticut are to generate funds for the state and to bring illegal sports betting onto legal platforms, than that should result in being a broad-based offering — maybe a location in every town,” CT Lottery CEO Greg Smith said. “Convenient customer access so that people aren’t needing to go to a specific location in a specific town.”
Smith noted that whereas other operators would pay the state a percentage of earnings, the Lottery would return its full profits.
“It’s important to recognize that the Lottery’s return per dollar will be significantly greater than any other operator,” he said.
However, neither sports betting bill proposed thus far in the legislative session would establish the CT Lottery as a sports-betting operator.
Sportech off-track betting locations
Next to the casinos, Connecticut’s off-track betting locations are the most likely candidates to operate sports betting. Allowing OTBs (which currently accept bets on horses, greyhounds and jai alai) to take sports wagers would make sports betting a bit more accessible, without expanding the list of places in Connecticut where legal gambling can take place.
Connecticut is currently home to 16 off-track betting venues operated by the New Haven-based Sportech, including Bobby V’s locations in Stamford and Windsor Locks. Sportech executive chairman Richard McGuire said his company’s existing infrastructure makes it a logical sports-betting operator.
“We’re regulated already, we’re an operator we have the venues,” McGuire said. "We think that both ourselves and the two tribal casinos are clearly regulated and ready and understand this marketplace and can deliver a product very quickly to Connecticut.”
Each state that has legalized sports betting has grappled with the question of whether to offer online sports betting or whether to restrict wagers to brick-and-mortar locations. As of now, only New Jersey and Nevada allow residents to bet digitally through smart-phone apps, but Pennsylvania appears poised to join them.
In legalizing online sports betting in Connecticut, lawmakers could choose whether to restrict the practice to tribal casinos or to open it up to MGM, the CT Lottery, daily fantasy companies such as DraftKings and others.
Advocates argue that mobile apps are the only way to make sports betting widely accessible and to maximize revenue from legalization.
“We believe that mobile betting is the future,” Bunnell said. “That’s how most of the world is now communicating and entertaining. They’re doing it on tablets and devices, and we should not rule that out.”