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    Thursday, June 20, 2024

    Why not online gambling for Connecticut's tribes? Drive-in casinos?

    Plexiglass shields surround blackjack tables Thursday, May 21, 2020, in the Casino of the Sky at Mohegan Sun Casino. Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods both plan limited openings June 1. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    I would generally caution against second-guessing and criticizing Gov. Ned Lamont for his fraught decision-making in the midst of this public health crisis. But here I go anyway.

    What finally lured me in to the tempting waters of the criticize-Lamont pool, where so many are already happily splashing around, was the disclosure Thursday by Mohegan Tribal Chairman James Gessner that he had not heard from the governor since the week before, despite Lamont's public announcement Wednesday that he opposes the tribes' plans to reopen their casinos June 1.

    Wow. Not only does the governor seem insensitive to the plight and pleas of the two tribes that together run one of the biggest economic engines of eastern Connecticut, but he won't even pick up the phone and talk about it.

    Lamont told reporters Wednesday it is "premature" to say whether he might pull the casinos' liquor licenses if they reopen against his wishes, but he has clearly given it some thought.

    On Thursday, his consumer protection commissioner wrote to the tribes and cited a section of their gaming compacts with the state that could be used to justify a demand by the governor that the sovereign nations abide by his health orders.

    This isn't the first time the governor has given the tribes a cold shoulder, but it is especially troubling as they lay off thousands of employees and hemorrhage millions.

    Incredibly, Lamont remained silent while his medical reopening expert recently asserted during a virtual news conference that the economic benefits of the casinos are not large.

    U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, to his credit, took the Mohegans up on an invitation for a tour, also offered to Lamont, of the freshly scrubbed Mohegan Sun and its new gaming table sneeze guards, sanitizing stations, air purifiers, digital temperature screeners and strict social distancing signs and policies.

    The congressman, lamenting the state's rising unemployment numbers, endorsed the tribal plans to reopen and urged Lamont to take a look.

    Lamont is not alone among governors who want to keep casinos shut for now, including those in Massachusetts and Rhode Island that compete with Connecticut's tribes.

    Maybe the governors are right about the grave risks. Las Vegas and Atlantic City are still shuttered.

    As Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo said about opening casinos: "Man, you better get that right."

    But couldn't Lamont at least go and hear out the tribes and see what they've done, given what's at risk. Maybe they have it right, ahead of the competition from the other states.

    I've come around to the suggestion made by a large bipartisan group of eastern Connecticut lawmakers who pleaded with Lamont in a recent letter to issue an executive order to allow the tribes to conduct online gaming.

    The governor reacted as if the bad boys in the schoolyard were urging him to lob a spitball at the teacher. Heavens no, he seemed to say.

    It's not like the state wasn't taking in boatloads of money from gambling, before the spigot was closed anyway. Why not let people do it safely at home, while we are in this crisis?

    It's not such a shocking thing. It's legal in states all around the country.

    It could be a temporary order, good only until the legislature can go back in session and take it up as a long-term policy proposal. If the governor has no problem shutting down businesses by executive order to protect public health, why not let one open up to do essentially the same thing they were doing before. It would be no-contact gambling.

    We are making allowances in zoning and liquor laws to let restaurants open outside, to help them through the pandemic. Why can't there be a similar temporary order to allow the casinos to continue to offer the same product they've always offered, safely in people's homes?

    It's hard to know how the standoff between Lamont and the tribes will end and whether the governor might start yanking liquor permits or other state licenses to block a reopening.

    In any event, I'd like to see the tribes roll out online gambling on their reservations, whether they reopen the casinos soon or not.

    I don't see why the governor would try to stop that.

    Playing a slot machine on your phone in a parked car on the reservation should be no different than playing one on the casino gaming floor, what is already legal. Drive-in movies are popular again. How about a drive-in casino?

    And the state could get its cut.

    This is the opinion of David Collins.


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