James Gessner Jr., the Mohegan tribal chairman, shows Gov. Ned Lamont kiosks that will take sports bets. Lamont was at Mohegan last week to address a union meeting. MARK PAZNIOKAS / CTMIRROR.ORG
James Gessner Jr., the Mohegan tribal chairman, shows Gov. Ned Lamont kiosks that will take sports bets. FanDuel is the Mohegan’s sports betting vendor. Lamont was at Mohegan last week to address a union meeting. MARK PAZNIOKAS / CTMIRROR.ORG
James Gessner Jr., the Mohegan tribal chairman, shows Gov. Ned Lamont kiosks that will take sports bets. FanDuel is the Mohegan’s sports betting vendor. Lamont was at Mohegan last week to address a union meeting. MARK PAZNIOKAS / CTMIRROR.ORG

The debut of legal sports betting and online casino gambling in Connecticut is days or perhaps weeks away, but a precautionary tool went live Thursday: A chance for people to ban themselves from virtual gambling even before it starts.

A voluntary self-exclusion program operated by the Department of Consumer Protection will enable anyone to bar themselves from virtual gambling for one year, five years or life.

Safeguards against problem gambling got relatively little attention during the General Assembly’s legalization debate in May, leaving those details to Consumer Protection, the agency responsible for regulating gambling.

“We built into the regulations a lot of ways for people to start maybe recognizing just how much they’re doing,” said Michelle Seagull, the consumer protection commissioner.

Those prompts are intended to help gamblers either set limits —or conclude they might have a problem. If they do, the voluntary self-exclusion list can impose a cooling off period or a lifetime ban.

A family member or other third party cannot seek to have someone else placed on the list, a feature offered on some private sites, such as FanDuel, if a gambler is using a credit card jointly held by a spouse obligated to the bill.

The legalization law required the Department of Consumer Protection to draft emergency regulations, a process that allowed the legislature’s Regulation Review Committee to adopt them without public hearings. Those regulations require periodic prompts to gamblers about how much time they are spending online, as well as providing a tally of their bets once they have exceeded $2,500.

The emergency rules must be replaced in the next six months by regulations that will be open to public input and a more rigorous legislative review.

“So there’s going to be an immediate opportunity to do any tweaks if something is brought to our attention,” Seagull said. “So that’ll be an opportunity for  people to give us input if they think there’s more we should have done.”

Outside the regulation review process, legislators also are expected to take another look at the level of consumer protections, said Rep. Maria Horn, D-Salisbury, co-chair of the Public Safety & Security Committee, which has jurisdiction over gambling legislation.

“I expect this is going to be one of these things, like so many things we do in the legislature, that we will be revisiting on a regular basis,” Horn said. “We’ve just expanded gaming in Connecticut pretty significantly, and I would be very surprised that means we’ve gotten everything right on the first go.”

Horn said the legislature is likely to consider whether Connecticut should follow the example of Massachusetts, New Jersey and other states that have regulated gambling with a commission whose sole responsibility is gaming. Aside from occupational licensing and anti-fraud divisions, the state Department of Consumer Protection enforces liquor and drug laws, including the recently approved legalization of the production and sale of recreational marijuana.

“We’ve loaded them up, and I’m very concerned about that,” Horn said. “And I do think we probably ought to have a commission.”

The sports-betting and online gaming law passed in May is the broadest expansion of legal gambling in Connecticut since the opening in the 1990s of the state’s two tribal casinos, Foxwoods Resort and Mohegan Sun.

It authorizes the casino owners, the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribal nations, and the CT Lottery to take sports bets and the tribes to also offer casino games on smart phones and other digital devices.

The Department of Consumer Protection cannot issue the master licenses necessary for the tribes to go forward until the the Department of Interior publishes in the Federal Register its acceptance of amendments to their gambling compacts with the state.

The Mohegan amendment has been published, but the Mashantucket Pequots’ one has not. Because the Pequots won federal recognition by an act of Congress, not the typical review by the Department of Interior, its compact amendments are not automatically published in the Register.

Rodney Butler, the Pequots tribal chairman, said Thursday he has asked Interior to comply.

“We have confirmed with Interior that it is in process and will be published in a matter of days,” Butler said in a text message.

[UPDATE: It will be published Monday.]

Diana Goode, the executive director of the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling, said she was frustrated by the refusal of the Department of Consumer Protection to mandate that the self-exclusion list apply to gambling at the casinos and not just online wagering.

Seagull said the tribes’ sovereign status limits what the state can impose on tribal land. The self-exclusion list will apply, however, to retail betting locations licensed by the lottery.

The tribes maintain their own self-exclusion lists, as do most commercial casinos. Goode has been trying to get them to work from one list for years, and she hoped the state would require it as part of the gambling expansion.

“When you self-exclude, you’re raising your hand saying that you have a problem and you need help, and for the state to make that more difficult to get that help, I think, is a real problem,” Goode said.

It appears the state will not have to mandate a broader use of its list — the tribes say they are ready to work from a single self-exclusion list.

When contacted Thursday morning by CT Mirror, the Mohegans’ chief of staff, Chuck Bunnell, said the tribe already had decided to honor the state’s exclusion list at its casino.

“The Mohegans are deeply committed to the issue of problem gaming. And they’ve worked it out with the state of Connecticut that if you choose to exclude from the state that you will be given an option to also include yourself for exclusion from Mohegan — online, and bricks and mortar,” Bunnell said.

Hours later, Butler said through a spokesperson that the Pequots had the same commitment and would work out the details with the state.

Details on how to enroll on the Connecticut Department of Consumer’s self-exclusion list are at https://portal.ct.gov/selfexclusion

To get on the Massachusetts self-exclusion list, go to https://massgaming.com/about/voluntary-self-exclusion/

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.