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Connecticut House passes gaming-expansion bill, 122 to 21

Connecticut’s much-anticipated embrace of legal sports wagering and online gaming drew closer to reality Thursday night, with the House of Representatives voting 122 to 21 to approve a bill incorporating gaming agreements Gov. Ned Lamont’s office negotiated earlier with the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes.

The measure was sent to the Senate, which is expected to approve it in the coming days.

If signed into law by the governor, it will require review by the U.S. Department of the Interior, which must sign off on the changes in the state-tribal gaming agreements, or compacts.

The bill allows the tribes to conduct in-person and online sports wagering as well as fantasy contests at their respective casinos, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, which are located on the tribes' reservations, and to conduct sports wagering, online gaming and fantasy contests outside their reservations.

It also authorizes the Connecticut Lottery Corp. to conduct retail and online sports wagering, online keno and online lottery draw games. Specifically, it allows the lottery to provide sports wagering at up to 15 locations, including Hartford and Bridgeport, and specifies that any of them may be licensed to the state’s off-track betting operator, Sportech Venues.

Three years after a U.S. Supreme Court decision lifted a ban on states’ authorization of sports wagering, “It’s time we take charge of that market and regulate it appropriately,” said state Rep. Maria Horn, D-Salisbury, who championed the bill prior to the vote.

“The Mohegan Tribe is thankful to Governor Ned Lamont and our partners in the Connecticut House of Representatives for passing legislation on a bipartisan basis that will bring online gaming and sport wagering to Connecticut,” James Gessner, the Mohegan tribal chairman, said in a statement. “By modernizing our gaming industry in these ways, Connecticut will keep pace with neighboring states, protecting Connecticut jobs and generating tax revenues to the benefit of both state and local municipal budgets, as well as our tribe’s members.”

"This is not just a regional issue — it will have a statewide impact as Connecticut works to meet critical needs as it recovers from the pandemic," Gessner said. 

In anticipation of the vote, Rodney Butler, the Mashantucket chairman, issued a statement.

“For our Tribe, gaming is about much more than business; it is a means by which we rebuild our nation, educate our children, and take care of our elders,” he said. “Passage of this legislation will enable us to do just that, and more, for generations to come. We thank Governor Lamont, leadership of the General Assembly, members of the southeastern Connecticut legislative delegation and the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, as well as the many members of the legislature who have supported us in this in this journey, especially those in the Public Safety and Finance committees.”

Many representatives who spoke prior to the vote noted the legislature has been debating gambling expansion for years. For starters, it required the governor and the tribes — who maintained they had an exclusive right to sports betting — to reach an agreement.

That agreement, a compromise that required the tribes to defer for at least a decade their plan to develop a third casino in East Windsor, finally was sealed in March.

Representatives whose districts include East Windsor and surrounding towns in northcentral Connecticut voted against the bill.

“The impact on East Windsor is staggering,” said Rep. Carol Hall, an Enfield Republican, who said East Windsor stands to lose $40 million in revenue it would have been guaranteed over a five-year period. “It saddens me that we’re here today and East Windsor was removed from this bill ...”

The legislation requires payments to the General Fund ranging from 13.75% to 20% of gross revenues from sports wagering and online casino gaming and would produce an estimated $30.6 million in fiscal 2022 and $36.4 million in fiscal 2023 for the state. By fiscal 2026, the windfall could reach $83 million a year.

An amendment overwhelmingly approved earlier in the day by the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee and then endorsed by the full House requires each of the tribes to contribute $500,000 annually to problem-gambling services.

The lottery’s annual contribution to problem-gambling services would increase from $2.3 million to $3.3 million.

Consumer protections included in the bill call for problem-gambling information to be conspicuously displayed on the online gaming sites and for pop-up messages to appear announcing the amount of time and money a gambler has spent on the site. Gamblers must be 21 years old and will be limited to the use of a single debit or credit card.

Betting on college sports teams located in the state will be prohibited except, for example, in the case of a bet on an entire NCAA tournament bracket that includes a Connecticut team.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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