Bill would authorize sports betting at casinos

Aiming to jump-start the legislature’s consideration of sports betting, state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, and other members of southeastern Connecticut’s legislative delegation announced Monday that they’ve submitted a bill that would allow the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes to provide online and in-person sports betting at their casinos.

The measure also would authorize the Connecticut Lottery Corp. to operate online keno within the state “pursuant to agreements” with the tribes.

More than a dozen lawmakers — senators and representatives from both parties — joined Osten in introducing the proposed bill, which would include age and location verification requirements designed to block access to online sports betting for persons under 21 years old and to online keno for those under 18.

“The Mohegan Tribal Council deeply appreciates the bipartisan and bicameral support,” Chuck Bunnell, the Mohegans’ chief of staff, said. “The respect for our government-to-government agreements and the need to keep Connecticut competitive is being recognized and we stand by those who stand for Connecticut.”

The legislative session doesn’t begin until Wednesday.

“This gets the conversation started at a very early point,” Osten said. “I’d like to see action on this as soon as possible.”

She said the proposed bill is likely to change as it moves through the legislative process and could authorize sports betting at other locations, although that would involve further negotiations with the tribes, who have maintained that their existing agreements with the state grant them the exclusive right to provide sports betting. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, whose term ends Wednesday, and the tribes had made progress on a sports-betting agreement.

In 2015, an agreement between the state and the tribes paved the way for the lottery’s introduction of keno at retail locations, restaurants and bars. Each tribe receives 12.5 percent of the gross keno revenue.

“This particular proposal will clearly benefit the tribal casinos,” Tara Chozet, a spokeswoman for the lottery, said of Osten’s latest bill. “There are many stakeholders interested in offering sports betting in the state. The CT Lottery would optimize the returns to Connecticut, and we should be included in the conversations alongside other potential operators as this discussion evolves.”

Ted Taylor, president of Sportech Venues, which operates the state’s off-track betting facilities, another potential provider of sports wagering, declined to comment on Osten’s bill.

Since last May, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal ban on sports wagering, a half-dozen states have enacted laws legalizing sports betting, including Rhode Island, which launched it in November. It's expected to generate $11.5 million for that state by June 30, the end of the fiscal year.

"Connecticut needs to play catch-up with surrounding states if we’re serious about modernizing our existing gaming industry,” Osten said in a statement. “Fortunately, we can do that with a relatively simple regulatory fix. The U.S. Supreme Court decision last year paved the way for the expansion of private-sector sports betting, and I think Connecticut is in a good position to take advantage of that. We have the infrastructure with the tribal casinos, we can use the new revenue, and we’ve got bipartisan support. This should be an early session success story.” 

In December, Osten and her southeastern Connecticut colleagues submitted a proposed bill that would eliminate the need for the Mashantuckets and Mohegans to secure federal approval of amended gaming agreements with the state before moving forward with an East Windsor casino project.

That approval — a requirement of the 2017 law authorizing the East Windsor casino — has not been forthcoming.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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