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Draft of gaming bill details expansion, tribes' sports betting

A draft of state Sen. Cathy Osten’s latest gaming bill calls for Gov. Ned Lamont to reach new agreements authorizing the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes to offer sports wagering at their resort casinos, at the “satellite” casino they still hope to build in East Windsor and at three other tribally owned facilities the proposed legislation would authorize in "entertainment zones" in Hartford, New Haven and elsewhere.

The envisioned agreements also would grant the tribes the exclusive right to offer online gaming and sports wagering via computers and hand-held devices from anywhere in the state.

Osten, the Sprague Democrat, announced Tuesday that a bipartisan group of legislators will join her Wednesday in Hartford at a news conference unveiling the bill, now dubbed “An Act Concerning Jobs In and Revenue From the Gaming Industry.”

Not surprisingly, the chairmen of both tribes embraced Osten’s proposal, which the General Assembly is expected to take up during the legislative session that begins next week. And, just as predictably, MGM Resorts International issued a statement Tuesday saying it remains interested in opportunities in the state and will defend its right to compete in Connecticut.

The governor's office did not respond to a request for comment on the draft of the bill.

Gaming expansion has commanded lawmakers’ attention in every legislative session since 2015, which was soon after Massachusetts licensed resort casinos in Springfield and the Greater Boston area. The prospect of competition from MGM Springfield, which opened in 2018, prompted Connecticut’s gaming tribes to jointly pursue their East Windsor project. The legalization of sports wagering has been considered all but inevitable since a long-anticipated 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision that made it possible.

The tribes and Connecticut governors — Lamont and his predecessor, Dannel P. Malloy — have been negotiating amendments to longstanding gaming agreements that spell out revenue-sharing terms tied to the tribes' exclusive right to provide casino gaming. While the tribes maintain that exclusivity extends to sports wagering, some in state government disagree.

“I am very optimistic that my discussions with Governor Lamont will bear fruit,” James Gessner, the Mohegan chairman, said in a statement. “He and I agree that Connecticut has waited too long to modernize our industry and be competitive with our surrounding states. The Tribal Council also has a great friend in Senator Osten and we are hopeful that the Connecticut General Assembly sees that through the Connecticut Jobs and Revenue Act everyone wins.”

Rodney Butler, the Mashantucket chairman, said he was hopeful that conversations that began last session will lead to legislation this session.

"We continue to work with the governor and legislative leadership to achieve the goal of expanding Connecticut’s gaming economy to bring incremental jobs and revenue to the state," he said. "We’re grateful to all the delegations from both sides of the aisle that have thrown their support behind the Connecticut Jobs and Revenue Act, recognizing the value of our continued partnership. We’re excited to bring sports betting and online gaming to all of our patrons and to further modernize our gaming landscape to the benefit of the region and the state at large."

The proposed bill would authorize a tribally owned company to operate a casino gaming facility in Bridgeport, provided the company invests at least $100 million in the venture.

In recent legislative sessions, MGM Resorts has pushed for the establishment of a competitive-bidding process among casino operators, offering to develop a $675 million project in Bridgeport.

“MGM continues to be interested in opportunities in Connecticut, and we strongly believe that the best path for Connecticut, whether in establishing sports betting or moving ahead with a third casino in the state, is an open, competitive process,” the company said in its statement. "As we have said consistently, if Connecticut is to maximize the economic impact of a commercial casino license, a transparent, competitive process is in the state’s best interest. That is equally true for sports betting, and the most direct path to bring the greatest results for Connecticut taxpayers, economic growth and state revenue."

“MGM will also continue to pursue all legal options, including litigation, to defend our right to compete in Connecticut,” it said.

MGM already has succeeded in delaying, if not outright blocking, the tribes’ East Windsor project through lawsuits, including one currently pending against the U.S. Department of the Interior, which approved the most recent amendments to the tribes’ gaming agreements with the state.

Sportech Venues, which operates the state's off-track betting facilities, indicated it will continue to lobby for a piece of the state's sports-betting action.

"We haven't changed our view," said Ted Taylor, Sportech's president. "We think we should be involved. We're the only operator in the state licensed to take retail bets online. It would be amazing for us to be excluded from any sports betting ..."

Osten’s bill also would authorize the Connecticut Lottery Corp. to sell draw-game tickets online and offer internet keno, and it would allow Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun, as well as the proposed gaming facilities in Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven and one other municipality, to serve alcohol until 4 a.m., which is two hours later than the state currently allows.

The new gaming authorized by the bill would generate about $90 million a year in additional revenue for the state, according to Osten, and allow for a greater portion of the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan Fund to be divvied up among the state’s cities and towns. The fund now comes from the state’s 25% share of the slot-machine revenues generated by the tribes' casinos.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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