Would the inability to make legal bets on how Tom Brady will perform on the opening night of the NFL season constitute an emergency? Connecticut’s governor and some lawmakers would seem to think so.
The legislature’s Regulations Review Committee committee voted 9-4 Tuesday to adopt emergency regulations geared to speeding the arrival of sports betting and online casino games in Connecticut, as authorized by a law passed in May.
“The passage of the regulations for sports wagering and online gaming is a significant step forward for Connecticut and our partners in this new marketplace,” Gov. Ned Lamont said.
The law, its terms set by negotiations with the Lamont administration and lawmakers, specified that the launch of the gambling expansion would not be hampered by a more deliberate regulatory process.
There is no public comment period in emergency regulations.
“That’s a big issue for me, this whole rushing to sort of — and I just know this anecdotally — to meet the opening of the football season,” said Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, who cast one of the four votes in opposition.
The tensions inherent in regulating how gambling can be conducted 24/7 on smartphones and computers — platforms designed for instant access, if not gratification — were evident in the brief debate.
Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, whose district is home to the state’s two casinos, worried that the inability to use PayPal, Venmo and Apple Pay might make gambling too hard. Only one credit card or debit card can be used to open an account.
Others worried about the absence of hard daily limits on wagering or the ability of gamblers to bet from joint bank accounts or credit lines.
“I think that just really highlights the difficult balance that needs to be struck, but I’m comfortable with the balance here,” said Michelle Seagull, the commissioner of the Department of Consumer Protection.
Her department is the regulatory overseer of gambling, liquor sales and the production and sale of cannabis.
The state, of course, is hardly a disinterested actor: Just as it shares in slots play at the tribal casinos, Foxwoods Resort and Mohegan Sun, Connecticut will get its cut of online casino gambling and sports betting.
The state will collect taxes of 18% initially on online casino gambling, increasing to 20% after five years; and 13.75% on sports betting and fantasy sports. It is projected to generate $28 million in the current fiscal year and increase in the future.
As Lamont put it in his statement, the two tribal casinos are the state’s partners. The tribes and the state-owned Connecticut Lottery Corporation are the only entities eligible for the only master licenses for sports wagering.
The tribes and CT Lottery have selected vendors to run their sports books, but they have been awaiting the regulatory structure, which establishes procedures and standards, such as age verification and geo-fencing to keep the online wagering within Connecticut. Through a deal with the lottery, the state’s off-track betting operator, Sportech, will offer a sports book at 10 of its facilities.
“With the NFL season kickoff fast approaching, we are working to launch online gaming and sports betting as soon as we are legally allowed to do so,” said Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Nation, which owns Foxwoods.
The tribes currently are awaiting approval from the U.S. Department of Interior of the state’s gambling compacts with the two federally recognized tribes, the Mashantucket Pequots and Mohegans. A 45-day review period expires in the next nine days.
“We expect action from the federal Department of Interior within the next two weeks on the compact amendments submitted in late July, and it is our understanding that once that approval comes, the state Department of Consumer Protection will issue master wagering licenses,” Butler said.
Butler acknowledged what the governor’s statement ignored: The emergency regulations approved Tuesday essentially are temporary, and a permanent version must be adopted in the next six months — this time after a public comment period.
“We anticipate there will be further clarification of the regulations before a vote on final regulations early next year that will align with best practices we see in competitive markets throughout the country,” Butler said.
Diana Goode, the executive director of the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling, said the regulations do not adequately address voluntary self-exclusion — a technique that allows a gambler to put a casino off-limits for a certain time or forever.
Her council, a non-profit financed by the tribal casinos and the state, would like to see a unified voluntary self-exclusion program. Currently, the tribes have separate programs, and the new regulations only address online gambling, not wagering at the two casinos or the Sportech facilities licensed by the lottery.
“We were concerned that most of what they were focusing on was self-exclusion online, and they were ignoring self-exclusion with the brick and mortar,” Goode said. “Our feeling is there should be one comprehensive state self-exclusion package, so that you can self-exclude from everything, if that’s what you want to do, and you don’t have to do it piecemeal.”
The regulations do not set betting limits, but they require that online wagering platforms offer patrons an opportunity to set limits.
“A deposit limit shall be offered on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis and shall specify the maximum amount of money a patron may deposit into his or her Internet gaming account during a particular period of time,” the regulations say.
When a patron’s lifetime deposits exceed $2,500, the electronic wagering platform shall prevent any wagering until the patron acknowledges they are aware that they can set established “responsible gaming limits or close their account.”
Kissel questioned if a red flag occasionally popping up was sufficient.
“We’re going to be enticing young people in particular with a lot of these games,” Kissel said.
The minimum age is 21.
Kissell, Sen. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, and Rep. Dave Rutigliano, R-Trumbull, each objected to the ability of a gambler to use a joint account for gambling, saying one spouse or partner could ruin the other.
Seagull said in an interview that the Connecticut regulations meet or exceed industry standards.
“I think our regulations do a really good job and are in line, certainly with what other states are doing,” Seagull said. “Most states don’t kind of get into that nuance between joint and personal accounts. And you know a lot of states do allow for payment options such as PayPal and Venmo, which we don’t allow in Connecticut. So there’s definitely a balance that has to be made.”
Seagull said the regulations cannot be so burdensome that consumers will not “enter a marketplace and engage in conduct that the state of Connecticut decides should be lawful for adults.”
At the same, the goal is to offer safeguards, she said.
“The fact that some people thought we were not strict enough and others thought we were too strict, we did end up landing somewhere in the middle.”