Supreme Court prompts state to reconsider sports gambling

Odds boards at a race and sports book in Las Vegas. (Credit: Baishampayan Ghos via Creative Commons)

Washington – The Supreme Court on Monday cleared the way for supporters of the legalization of sports betting in Connecticut to make another attempt to authorize this type of gambling in the state.

In a 6-3 ruling, the court said federal law prohibiting sports gambling in most states violated constitutional principles controlling state policies.

That decision prompted Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to say he would support a special session to consider a sports betting bill that stalled in the legislature’s regular session, which ended last week.

“As of today, I am prepared to call the General Assembly into special session to consider legalizing sports betting in Connecticut,” Malloy said. “It is incumbent on us to consider the question of legalized sports betting in a thoughtful way that ensures our approach is responsible, smart, and fully realizes the economic potential that this opportunity provides.”

Connecticut House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said he supported another attempt to approve a sports betting bill.

“Today’s court decision presents a potential opportunity for our state, one we have already started to prepare for, and a special session to enact legislation to get us going from a regulatory and operational standpoint would be an appropriate and prudent response,” Aresimowicz said in a statement.

He said Connecticut already has a bill “ready to serve as a foundation that was worked on extensively this session in concert with many stakeholders” including major league sports, Connecticut’s two gaming tribes – the Mohegans and Mashantucket Pequots – the off-track betting industry and the lottery.

“As a state where gaming is an important sector of our economy, we need to look ahead and be ready for what is coming and act to keep us competitive with other states,” Aresimowicz said.

House Republican leader Themis Klarides said allowing people to legally bet on sporting contests is not a partisan issue, but a “very complex matter,” that required further debate.

“A number of other states were in the process of readying a response in advance of the court ruling,” Klarides siad. “This will affect the compact we have with both tribes on slot machines, our lottery operations and the entire gambling structure in Connecticut.”

Preliminary estimates are that the state could gain $40 million to $80 million annually by imposing fees on sports betting. The state began preparing for that potential revenue stream in October, with a provision in the state budget that authorized fantasy sports contests.

If sports betting were legalized in Connecticut, the goal would be to require that all who wager online to do so through a site run by a state-licensed operator.

Some states are ready to allow legalized gambling on sports – which is a multi-billion-dollar industry that has existed for years on an unauthorized basis in most states and on a legal basis in some, including Nevada, whose gaming was grandfathered and not affected by the federal prohibition.

New Jersey, for instance, was behind the legal challenge to the federal prohibition.

But there are opponents to legalized sports betting in Connecticut, and a number of concerns.

The casino-owning Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes have told Aresimowicz and other members of the state’s General Assembly that they would support a sports-betting bill that made the tribes the only ones to offer that type of gaming.

“Sports betting is offered in Nevada casinos and is an important component of casino gaming there, where it is legal,” said Mashantucket Pequot attorney Elizabeth Conway.

On Monday, Mashantucket Pequot tribal Chairman Rodney Butler said he looked forward to the assembly’s approval of a bill that would allow the tribes to run sports gambling in the state.

“This is a historic day for the gaming industry,” Butler said. ” Although legislation didn’t pass the Connecticut General Assembly this session, we look forward to continuing the sports betting conversation with the state to determine the most sensible and feasible approach for us, Connecticut, its operators, and its constituents to pursue this opportunity within the structure of our current agreements.”

The tribes warn that allowing others to establish sports betting in Connecticut would violate their agreement with the state to share slot revenue.

Keith M. Phaneuf / CTMirror.org

Retired Boston Celtics forward Cedric Maxwell, left, and former MLB pitcher Al Leiter speak at the Capitol last month urging that major league sports leagues be given a fee to provide technology and security enhancements to ensure the integrity of sports betting.

In March, Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen warned state legislators if a court agreed with the tribes that authorized sports betting violated the “exclusivity” compact with the state, the tribes “could cease making payments to the state,” which to date have exceeded $7 billion.

“These are difficult and complex questions,” Jepsen testified. “They have significant fiscal and policy ramifications.”

Meanwhile, representatives from the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball — who opposed the legalization of sports betting — told Connecticut lawmakers in March they would seek an “integrity fee” of 1 percent of all bets placed. A lobbyist for the NBA, MLB, and PGA said Monday the leagues would support a 0.25 percent fee that was later proposed.

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