Committee bill narrowly focuses on sports wagering

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A General Assembly committee has introduced a bill that would allow the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes, the state’s off-track betting operator and the Connecticut Lottery Corp. to conduct sports wagering.

Like other expanded-gaming proposals, it’s conditioned on the governor reaching new gaming agreements with the tribes, respective owners of Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun.

The bill would allow each tribe to offer sports wagering “on Indian lands and through an electronic sports wagering platform,” and, despite allowing for the licensing of other sports wagering operators, “does not relieve each tribe from the tribe’s obligation” to provide the state with a percentage of its casino’s slot-machine revenue.

The tribes, who claim their gaming agreements grant them the exclusive right to provide sports wagering in Connecticut, have shown little or no sign of being willing to share the activity with other entities. A breach of their exclusivity, they've maintained, could cause them to stop paying the tax on slots revenue. 

“That’s always the elephant in the room,” said state Rep. Joe Verrengia, D-West Hartford, co-chairman of the Public Safety and Security Committee, which will conduct a public hearing Tuesday on gaming bills.

Verrengia, an author of the committee bill, said the committee tried to keep it narrow in scope to improve its chances of passing in a short legislative session, which began two weeks ago and ends in early May. The measure makes no mention of online gaming or casino expansion.

The bill would allow the state’s OTB operator, Sportech Venues; MMCT Venture, the Mashantucket-Mohegan partnership formed to pursue an authorized East Windsor casino; and the lottery to submit applications for a sports wagering operator license that would need to be renewed every five years. Applicants would pay $100,000 to apply for and to renew a license. Those awarded a license would pay a $750,000 licensing fee. The lottery would be exempt from the fees.

Although the bill sidesteps casino expansion — an earlier bill offered by Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, would authorize a Bridgeport casino — it does provide for sports wagering at so-called “entertainment zone facilities,” which have been described as sports bars.

Each of the tribes would be allowed to provide sports wagering at one entertainment zone facility approved by the commissioner of the state Department of Consumer Protection.

Sportech Venues would be allowed to conduct sports wagering online and in person at any of its authorized locations and at one entertainment zone facility approved by the commissioner. Sportech currently operates 15 locations around the state.

The lottery would be allowed to conduct sports wagering online and in person at no more than four of its so-called “high tier” claim centers.

In addition, the commissioner would be required to develop a process for approving entertainment zone facilities that could only be located in Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven, Waterbury or any other municipality, provided that municipality wasn’t within 10 miles of another entertainment zone facility.

The bill also provides for the licensing of sports wagering vendors — entities that a licensed sports wagering operator could hire to provide the activity. FanDuel and William Hill, the bookmaker for Rhode Island casinos, are examples of such vendors, Verrengia said.

Vendors would face application and renewal fees of $100,000 and a licensing fee of $300,000.

The bill would impose a 10% tax on gross sports wagering revenue generated by wagering in person and a 14.75% tax on gross sports wagering revenue from online wagering.

“It’s consistent with what other states have done,” Verrengia said. “What we found is that up to 85% of the revenue from sports wagering comes from wagering online.”

In something of a departure, the bill would not prohibit betting on in-state college sports teams.

“The point of any bill should be to bring any potentially illegal activity into the sunlight so we can regulate it,” Verrengia said. “If we allow sports betting on colleges, it’ll keep it from going underground.”

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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