Legislators uncertain about legalizing sports betting before ’19

Keith M. Phaneuf / CTMirror.org

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy discusses the prospects of a new sports betting management system with reporters.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Thursday his administration could have a proposal ready soon for legislative consideration  on a new state system for managing  and profiting from sports betting.

But it isn’t clear whether the legislature, which won’t be back in regular session until Jan. 9, wants to come into special session later this year.

The governor briefed legislative leaders on talks his administration has had with Connecticut’s two tribal casinos and with other entities. Malloy, who leaves office on Jan. 9, asked lawmakers to inform him within a week whether they want to work with him to resolve the issue soon or leave it to his successor.

“The bottom line is in the last few weeks real action has taken place,” Malloy said following a one-hour, closed-door meeting with legislative leaders. “People have started to move in a direction where I think an agreement could ultimately be reached with respect to who could operate within our state, how they would operate within their state, what could be bet on, and the like.”

“It’s possible an agreement could be reached and legislative action could be called upon,” Malloy said. “I asked them for input on that matter, whether they intend to come into session.”

Leaders were mum on the next step, other than to say talks continue and that they would consult with rank-and-file lawmakers.

“He was just bringing us up to speed,” said Senate Republican leader Len Fasano of North Haven. “We’re still talking.”

When asked about the prospects of a special session on sports betting later this summer or fall, Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, was noncommittal. “That depends on the end result of the [negotiation] process,” he said.

Connecticut is one of many states scrambling to resolve the issue of sports betting in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s May 14 ruling that a federal statute barring sports gambling in most states was unconstitutional.

Sports gambling is now illegal in most states, but bets can easily be placed on-line with off-shore books. The question now, Connecticut officials have asked, is what role the state should play in managing the activity.

Connecticut’s challenge is more complicated than that of most other states. That’s because since the early 1990s the state has had an agreement with tribal casinos in southeastern Connecticut to receive 25 percent of video slot receipts in exchange for exclusive rights to casino gambling.

If the state legalizes sports betting, the tribes would be able to open their own sports books. Less clear is whether sports betting, which long has been offered at Las Vegas casinos, should be considered a form of casino gambling. That is one of the issues Malloy has been addressing with the tribes.

The Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes, which own and operate the Foxwoods Resorts Casino and Mohegan Sun, respectively, are expected to pump $204 million into the state’s coffers this fiscal year. Those receipts once totaled as much as $430 million in 2007, but the state’s take has dropped steadily since then in the face of competition from gaming centers in other states.

The governor did not provide many details about negotiations other than to say he has spoken with tribal representatives, and other members of his administration have spoken with other parties.

Malloy said the tribes are “on the list of potential vendors” but that list also could include the off-track betting facilities. Some legislators also have suggested the Connecticut Lottery Corp. could play a role.

House Democratic leaders, who raised a sports betting management bill that died on the House calendar this past spring, said very preliminary estimates were that the state could gain $40 million to $80 million annually by imposing fees on sports betting.

Malloy said Thursday he’s not focused on revenue directly, but rather Connecticut’ gaming industry as a whole.

“This is about competitiveness,” he said.  “I think it really is more about … maintaining market share and perhaps capturing a portion of the illegal gaming revenue that is generated.”

New Jersey and Rhode Island already have enacted sports betting management laws, and the governor said he expects New York and Massachusetts soon will follow.

He also noted that while some other states don’t have to deal with tribal casinos, Connecticut’s situation means any new sports betting deal likely also would require approval from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. The BIA would have 90 days to consider any new sports betting management system involving Connecticut’s tribes before it would have to act, the governor said.

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