Ordering legal online gaming would be a step too far
The Declaration of Public Health and Civil Preparedness Emergencies that Gov. Ned Lamont declared on March 10 gave him wide latitude to unilaterally issue orders, giving him the ability to rapidly respond to developments in the COVID-19 crisis.
But with that authority also came the potential for abuse, for pushing past actions to contain the epidemic and lessen its economic impacts into areas that should be left to the legislature.
In issuing 22 executive orders by our latest count, Lamont has used that authority effectively and not abusively.
Last week the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments, by unanimous agreement of the 22 towns represented, urged Lamont to take the extraordinary step of authorizing the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes to conduct online gaming.
Lamont declined. It was the right decision.
“Authorizing online gaming and enabling consumers to more easily access gambling is a significant policy decision that has not been embraced or acted upon by our legislature,” Lamont wrote to the COG. It would be, “a particularly significant policy decision to make without legislative approval.”
The governor also pointed to the impracticality of the idea. Such a change, even if temporary, would require a regulatory framework, which would also be the job of the legislature. The state’s compact with the tribes that set the rules for gaming in the state, and the exclusive rights of the tribal nations to provide it, would need renegotiation. And the U.S. Secretary of the Interior would have to sign off.
Trying to do all that via executive order would be a substantial abuse of power.
Yet the desperation that drove the request is understandable. The two casinos ceased operations March 17. Together they employed an estimated 12,000 workers, now furloughed. Those job losses and the business lost by the many contractors serving the Foxwoods Resort and Mohegan Sun casinos has aggravated the economic blow to our region.
Online gambling would have provided a revenue stream to help the tribes deal with the unprecedented casino closures and perhaps bounce back that much faster. But it is not a decision a governor alone should make.
This is not to excuse the governor for the lack of progress on reaching an agreement during normal times — and getting it adopted by the legislature — which would have provided for sports betting and online gaming. Post-pandemic, Lamont should make such legislation a priority.
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