Here are some key questions legislators face before Connecticut residents can legally bet on sports
By Alex Putterman
When Connecticut’s new legislative session begins on Jan. 9, the state’s lawmakers will consider not only whether to legalize sports betting but also how that might work.
Several states (including nearby Rhode Island, New Jersey and Pennsylvania) have already passed and implemented sports betting legislation since the U.S. Supreme Court gave them the go-ahead last May, while Connecticut and others have been more deliberate in weighing whether to do so.
These are the questions that must be addressed before Connecticut residents can legally bet on sports.
Do lawmakers want to make sports betting happen?
Obviously, legal sports betting can happen in Connecticut only if lawmakers want it to. And although Democratic Gov.-elect Ned Lamont supports legalization and his party retains control over the state House and Senate, wrangling the votes won’t necessarily be simple, as legislators in both parties have voiced both support for and opposition to sports betting, for various reasons. Legislative leaders failed to pass a sports-betting bill last spring and opted against a special session last summer, letting the issue wait for a new governor.
That said, there seems to be enough legislative (and gubernatorial) support to make sports betting happen.
“It should be one of the first bills that we do [in 2019],” Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz said Thursday. “We’re really falling behind other states. They’re up and running, it’s happening, it’s having a positive impact on their economy. But more importantly for me, it’s having a negative impact on illegal sports betting.”
The big questions moving forward will concern how exactly legalization works.
What deal, if any, will the tribes strike?
Connecticut’s sports-betting calculus differs from that of, say, Rhode Island in one key way: The state must negotiate with the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes, owners of the Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos, who have exclusive rights to slot-machine gambling and claim a similar exclusive right to sports betting. If the state, which has resisted tribal claims of exclusivity, can’t reach an agreement with the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan, the sides could land in court.
Malloy made progress in negotiation with the tribes but never reached an agreement. Soon Lamont will give the talks a shot, in hopes of finding a deal that will both keep the casinos happy and maintain the state’s flexibility in moving forward with sports betting. Any agreement must be approved by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Who will operate sports betting? Where will bets be placed?
Every state that legalizes sports betting configures gambling differently. In Rhode Island, only the state’s two casinos offer sports betting. In New Jersey, bettors can wager at variouscasinos and racetracks, as well as on mobile apps. In Delaware, there are three casinos, plus dozens of “sports lottery” locations at convenience stores and liquor stores.
Connecticut lawmakers will have to decide who gets to run sports betting in this state. Foxwoods, Mohegan Sun and any future casinos will likely be operators, while various off track betting sites and the CT Lottery will seek a slice of the action as well.
Aresimowicz said he would prefer to limit sports betting to casinos and off-track sites to avoid “over-saturation.”
Will Connecticut have mobile betting?
State Rep. Joe Verrengia, who co-chairs the committee that oversees gambling, said in November that sports betting “would have to include a mobile platform,” which would allow bettors to place wagers from their couches, their cars or wherever else they take their smart phones (within state lines).
But other states have proceeded without mobile betting, sometimes pledging to worry later on about that form of betting. Connecticut could become the latest state to weigh the revenue potential of mobile betting against the risks of making sports gambling too accessible.
Will leagues receive an “integrity fee?"
Wherever there’s a legislature seeking to legalize sports betting, there’s usually a cohort of professional sports leagues seeking so-called “integrity fees” — or money paid to the leagues on which bets are placed to cover costs of monitoring, stat-keeping and enforcement.
Last spring, some Connecticut lawmakers pushed back against integrity fees, though some seemed more open to the idea as discussions progressed. A sports-betting bill proposed last February in the state House of Representatives included an integrity fee totaling one quarter of one percent of all wagers.
Will legislators address problem gambling?
According to the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling, Connecticut is home to about 35,000 problem gamblers, including a growing number under age 18. Advocates worry that the legalization of sports betting would increase that figure, as gambling became more accessible.
Although concerns about problem gambling are unlikely to torpedo sports-betting legislation in Connecticut, the CCPG has asked the state to provide designated funding for treatment and prevention as it seeks to expand gambling. If they legalize sports betting, Connecticut lawmakers will have to decide how serious they are about mitigating any increased risk of problem gambling that new legislation might cause.