New sports betting proposal, Bridgeport casino clear first Connecticut legislative hurdle
HARTFORD — The legislature’s Public Safety and Security Committee overwhelmingly voted Tuesday to support gambling expansion in Connecticut through sports betting, internet lottery games and a commercial casino.
It also backed measures to create a new state gambling commission and study problem gambling. The committee vote was the first hurdle before proposed legislation is considered by the House and Senate.
The committee passed a controversial proposal that could open the door for MGM Resorts International to construct a casino in Bridgeport that MGM has long lobbied for. The bill would create a process for the state to receive bids for a commercial casino license.
“We want to be America’s playground,” said Sen. Dennis Bradley, D-Bridgeport, who chairs the committee. “We will be America’s playground, where everyone can come and have a good time and be in a safe environment and enjoy not just casinos, but enjoy the entertainment that is going to come, enjoy the landscape that already exists, enjoy our harbor and our waterfront.”
Last year a similar proposal passed the House, but did not get a vote in the Senate. This year, the bill will head to the Senate first, where if it can pass, Bradley predicted it would also pass the House again.
But some senators, including other Democrats, have expressed strong concerns about how the request for proposals would impact Connecticut’s tribal casinos, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, and the revenue sharing compact they have with the state. Former attorney general George Jepsen issued an opinion in 2018 stating an RFP would not violate the compact.
“This legislature needs to think long and hard about what we are doing long-term,” said Rep. Pat Boyd, D-Pomfret. “There is a financial ramification that hits 169 towns... I am also very concerned that the market just won’t bear.”
The bill would require the commercial casino to share revenue with the state, just as Connecticut’s tribal casinos do. The new casino would have to pay 25 percent of all gross gambling revenue to the state and a minimum of 10 percent of all video slot machine revenue.
It would also require municipal revenue sharing. The casino company would have to make an annual payment of $8 million to the town it opens a casino in and share some revenue with surrounding towns.
“Today’s committee action advances legislation that puts Connecticut’s interests front and center — creation of an independent state gaming commission, a transparent competitive process for a valuable commercial casino license, and a competitive sports betting marketplace that will benefit consumers and the state,” said Bernard Kavaler, spokesman for MGM Resorts International.
The committee also advanced a bill, strongly supported by Eastern Connecticut lawmakers, that would allow a third tribal casino in East Windsor to advance without federal approval. The vote follows a criminal probe into former Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s alleged delay of the casino plan.
Connecticut is among 23 states now considering legalizing sports wagering, following a U.S. Supreme Court decision in May. Eight states, including Rhode Island and New Jersey, have already authorized the practice.
Lawmakers also approved new language Tuesday that would allow Connecticut’s tribes to offer sports wagering on their lands, including at Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, and through an online platform. The bill would also allow the Connecticut Lottery to conduct sports betting at four brick and mortar locations and online. Finally, it would permit sports wagering at licensed off-track betting locations and OTBs and other companies could submit proposals to the state to obtain one of three additional licenses to run online sports betting.
The bill would set a 10 percent tax on sports wagering gross revenue. Many lawmakers are attracted by the millions in revenue that legalization could bring to Connecticut.
“I would rather we as a state did it more cautiously, more wisely,” said Sen. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield. He worried that the ease of access to sports wagering and internet lottery games via mobile platforms would increase gambling addictions.
Sports wagering would be limited to adults age 21 and older.
Betting would not be permitted on Connecticut’s college sports teams.
“We want to kind of test the waters before we have a total proliferation of sports wagering,” said Bradley.
“Why not all college sports?” asked Rep. Kurt Vail, R-Stafford, refering to the ban on betting on Connecticut college teams. “I don’t think you can have that both ways.”
Multiple lawmakers Tuesday asked for information from Gov. Ned Lamont on the status of his negotiations with the tribes — and those of former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy — on casino gambling and sports wagering. Lamont has recently refused to answer reporters’ questions about those negotiations. He met with representatives of the tribes in January and with MGM in February.
email@example.com; Twitter: @emiliemunson