Gov. Lamont can solve the sports betting issue by himself
Democracy is the worst form of government, Churchill once said, except for all the others.
True enough, generally speaking. Except situations arise, such as the saga of sports betting in Connecticut, when dictatorships might have their place, too. As Archie Bunker once said, “Let me say this about Mussolini. He was no barrel of laughs, but all the trains ran on time.”
Gov. Lamont may need to channel his inner benevolent dictator if sports betting is ever going to happen here. The cacophony from earlier this week during a legislative public safety committee meeting — too many voices, too many agendas, too much polarization — suggests that the governor will need to broker a deal himself with officials from the Mohegans and Mashantucket Pequots, without any other legislative prattle.
In August, lawmakers kicked the can down the road, choosing not to partake of a special session of the General Assembly to discuss sports wagering, preferring to wait for the new year and new leadership.
Except that the same issues linger: Do Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods own exclusive rights to sports wagering in Connecticut, or may the privileges be extended to other groups, such as OTB, the state lottery, DraftKings and even an app on the phone?
Lawmakers heard testimony earlier this week — the same they’d have heard in August — that produced more discord than harmony. And we ought to know how this works by now. Obstruction over compromise produces wheels that spin furiously, but with no traction.
Lawmakers from eastern Connecticut fear that not giving the Mohegans and Mashantuckets exclusivity would imperil the current deal that gives the state roughly $250 million in gambling revenue. The specific wording about whether the Mohegans and Mashantuckets own exclusivity is ambiguous — at least to some — thus creating a divide between legislators from our corner of the world and others from the Bridgeport area who pine for a third state casino there.
Then there’s Greg Smith, the CEO of the state lottery, who believes his entity should operate sports wagering.
“If sports betting is going to be successful, it needs to be conveniently available,” Smith said in the Hartford Courant. “We would use our statewide retailer network, primarily composed of small businesses, to deliver sports betting.”
Others testified the need for more convenience, suggesting that apps on mobile phones are a necessity.
Giving the Mohegans and Mashantuckets exclusivity would inhibit what common sense suggests: A state in our financial morass needs to apply every possible tentacle to revenue streams. Still, the Mohegans and Mashantuckets, who have expressed a willingness to negotiate with Gov. Lamont, should be cut into some deal that keeps everyone happy.
I understand that Connecticut’s deal with the two casinos is more complex than, for example, New Jersey’s relationship with Atlantic City. But they’ve made it work. Sports wagering is available in New Jersey in every possible shape and form. There’s no reason that shouldn’t happen here.
But it rests with Gov. Lamont. If he waits for lawmakers to provide any semblance of a guiding hand on this, he’ll have a beard longer and whiter than Santa’s before anything productive happens. Get representatives from the two casinos and talk this out until we can move this forward — and begin reaping revenues we need.
My friend Jeff Jacobs, the columnist at Hearst Connecticut Media, likes to call our state a compilation of “169 petty fiefdoms.” (We have 169 towns.) He’s right. Too many places obsessed with their own self-interests who couldn’t comprehend a greater good argument if Gandhi himself delivered it.
Figures vary on how much revenue sports wagering would generate. Still, it’s something in a state that can use every dime.
I’m not interested in more testimony or debate from agenda-driven people whose blather stands in the way of progress. Gov. Lamont, the floor is yours. The Mohegans and Mashantuckets are reasonable people. Let’s move this forward. Soon.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro