Bargain gambling at Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun?

You can practically see the smoke pouring from under the doors to all of Hartford's back rooms this week.

The sand is running out on the hourglass for this particular combination of governor and General Assembly, and it might be the prospect of lots of new revenue that soon will draw them together for a legislative encore, a special session to consider legalizing sports betting in Connecticut.

It could turn out to be the biggest reworking of Connecticut's gambling map in decades.

As states begin vying to get in on the sports gambling game, in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling giving them the authority, estimates for how much revenue this could generate are all over the place.

Most analysts seem to agree, though, that, as a new gambling frontier in its infancy, it is likely to grow enormously, as the betting moves around the country from the dark world of bookies to the convenience of modern bet-making.

Here in Connecticut, the prospects already have put the first serious cloud over the longstanding agreement by which the two gaming tribes of eastern Connecticut pay 25 percent of their slot machine revenue to the state, in exchange for the exclusive rights to operate casino games.

Indeed, the state and tribes, by what they have said on the record about sports betting, appear to be headed to a meltdown of the slots deal. In response to suggestions that the Connecticut Lottery Corporation and pari-mutuels conduct sports betting, the tribes said that would violate their exclusivity deal and they would stop paying. No kidding.

Attorney General George Jepsen, on the other hand, says that sports betting elsewhere in the state would not violate the slots deal and the tribes would have to keep paying.

Short of a new deal, any action by lawmakers to legalize non-Indian sports betting in Connecticut could torpedo the slots payment plan, or at least send it to court.

The other gambling initiative the state is toying with, one embraced by the Democratic pick for governor, is a Bridgeport casino, which would certainly violate the tribes' slots deal.

The state/tribal slots deal began as a settlement of a legal disagreement over whether the tribes were entitled to slot machines. Their right to table games was declared by a federal court that found that, since tribes were entitled to whatever was legal in the state, a law allowing charities to conduct gambling nights was a door-opener for similar games on reservations.

I think the deal, extended to the Mohegans when they got federal recognition, has survived this long because it has suited both sides. But everyone's interests may be diverging.

With two big Massachusetts casinos about to come online, business at the two reservations is about to plummet. Almost every other car you see in the parking garages at Foxwoods is from Massachusetts.

The plan to keep some northern Connecticut gambling business from migrating to MGM Springfield with a commercial tribal casino is mired down in President Donald Trump's Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Even if the East Windsor casino is built, it is not going to stop the bleeding of customers on the reservations. I am not so sure it would even stop that many Connecticut gamblers from making the short trip to the exciting new MGM Springfield.

It would seem to me the tribes might be better off if Connecticut lawmakers march into a special session and approve sports betting through the lottery and pari-mutuels.

Since the tribes are entitled to any gambling otherwise legal in the state, they could conduct legal sports betting themselves and pay nothing to the state. They also could assert their contention that it violates their exclusivity deal and stop paying on the slots.

It seems to me the quarter-billion dollars or so the tribes are paying each year to the state could go a long way toward making the reservation casinos more competitive with the new ones in Massachusetts.

If you put a big chunk of it toward making the slot machines pay more, for instance, you could draw gamblers from quite some distance. Call them the loosest slots in the country.

So when the General Assembly convenes to consider sports betting, or even a Bridgeport casino, the tribes might just want to say go ahead, make our day.

The casinos grew so big here when they were the only game in town in the Northeast. There's no going back to those heady days of exclusivity and growth.

But if they could make themselves the nontaxed casinos with the best payouts in North America, that could turn out to be a pretty big draw.

And once you draw them in with loose slots, you could take their bets on Monday night football.

This is the opinion of David Collins.


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