Malloy sees need to protect casinos

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy addresses members of the editorial board during a visit to The Day on Thursday.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy addresses members of the editorial board during a visit to The Day on Thursday.

New London - Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Thursday that Connecticut will "want to play offensively" to ensure the state continues its role as a premier casino destination - despite the likely addition of new gaming attractions in New York and Massachusetts and the advent of online gambling throughout the United States.

Malloy, speaking during an editorial board meeting Thursday at The Day, said other states likely will pass legislation authorizing online gambling now that the U.S. Justice Department has reversed its stance against most forms of Internet gaming.

First among the states likely will be New Jersey, where Gov. Chris Christie has promised to make online gambling a priority as he seeks to make the Garden State an "epicenter" of Internet gaming, creating tie-ins with the state's large casino industry.

"New Jersey is going to pass it in a matter of weeks," Malloy said.

Although he has no specific plan for how the state will deal with Internet gambling, Malloy said he is obligated to protect the thousands of jobs in southeastern Connecticut reliant on the region's two casinos, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, that could be affected by expanded gambling opportunities.

"How do we protect that investment - that's what I'm working on," he said. "We have an industry to protect now."

Massachusetts plans to build three casino destinations and two smaller gambling facilities in the coming years, and New York is also talking about expanded gaming enterprises, including adding a full-service casino at the Aqueduct race track in Queens.

Malloy said he has had two sets of "comprehensive discussions" with tribal officials and representatives of the Connecticut Lottery about the best ways to face gambling competition beyond the state's borders.

"The tribes, the Lottery - we're all trying to figure this out together," he said.

Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman is the point person for the ongoing discussions, which Malloy said will include a look at allowing Keno outside the casinos as well as revisiting Connecticut's free-play rules. The state currently has higher obstacles to free play than other states, he said.

In addition, Malloy said, the state will have to look at providing opportunities for online Lottery play.

And the stakes are high. According to The New York Times, online poker advocates in California estimate betting could bring in up to $250 million in annual revenue.

Some analysts have said the best way for the state to allow Internet gambling in Connecticut might be to update the gaming compact signed two decades ago with the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes. The tribes contend that Connecticut would have to reopen negotiations on the compact if anyone else, including the state, got involved in online gambling.

"The shot is fired," Malloy said. "Internet gaming is going to come to the United States."

l.howard@theday.com

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