With OTB expansion bill signed, Sportech eyes slow growth

Despite Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s signing this week of a bill authorizing additional off-track-betting locations in the state, the head of the English company licensed to provide wagering on live broadcasts of horse racing, greyhound racing and jai alai said Tuesday he’s in no hurry to expand.

“We’re very pleased about it, but we’re not in a massive rush,” Ted Taylor, president of Sportech Venues, said. “We’ll take our time."

Taylor said Sportech, which just opened its 16th Connecticut facility in Stamford, has a list of prospective locations it's considering in “smaller towns” across the state, including one in eastern Connecticut that he declined to identify. Sportech’s OTB venues, branded “Winners,” now operate in Gus’s Pizza & Bar on Eugene O’Neill Drive in New London as well as in Putnam and Windham.

Other Winners locations can be found in bars and restaurants in the state’s larger cities and towns and at Bobby V’s Restaurant & Bar at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks. The Stamford Winners is located in another, newly opened Bobby V’s. Both Bobby V’s locations are collaborations between Sportech and Stamford native Bobby Valentine, the former major league baseball player who managed the Mets and the Red Sox.

The 16 existing OTB locations are among 18 previously authorized by the state. The legislation the governor signed Monday authorizes six more for a total of 24. The bill, dubbed a “sweetener,” was designed to win lawmakers’ votes for a separate bill authorizing the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes’ plan to jointly develop a third Connecticut casino in East Windsor. Malloy signed that bill into law late last month.

While the third-casino bill easily cleared both chambers of the legislature, the “sweetener” narrowly passed in the House, 77-72. The Senate approved it, 22-14.

In addition to authorizing the expansion of OTB in the state, the bill calls for the establishment of an advisory council to coordinate bookings at the state's big entertainment venues and requires the commissioner of the state Department of Consumer Protection to adopt regulations for sports betting, currently banned by state and federal law.

Two weeks ago, on the same day Malloy signed the third-casino bill, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a New Jersey case that could result in the lifting of the federal ban on sports betting. If that should occur, the state could consider legalizing sports betting.

Asked for comment on that possibility, a spokeswoman for the Department of Consumer Protection said Tuesday “the department will continue to monitor federal activity surrounding sports betting before adopting regulations.”

“Sports betting potentially could be a good thing for Sportech. It's what we do,” Taylor, the Sportech president, said. “What’s happening now is that people are betting on sports and everything else illegally. Everybody who is legally authorized to conduct betting is losing out to those who are illegally operating and who are not regulated.”

The Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes, respective owners of Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun, also have welcomed the Supreme Court's decision to take up the sports-betting issue.

Of most concern to Taylor is the impact of casino expansion on Sportech revenues.

MGM Springfield, a $950 million resort casino, is scheduled to open late next year a few miles from Connecticut’s northern border, and the tribes’ East Windsor facility could come online months after that.

“The impact of the (East Windsor) casino will be greater than the benefits that will accrue from these places,” Taylor said of the newly authorized OTB locations. “But it’s still some way off.”

Sportech prepared for MGM Springfield by upgrading the Bradley airport OTB site.

“We invested quite a lot in Windsor Locks,” Taylor said. “We did so much in advance that we think we’ve lessened the impact. But whenever you put up a big casino next door, it’s a bit of an issue.”

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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