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Osten preparing to resubmit gaming bill

Two weeks before the start of the General Assembly's 2020 session, state Sen. Cathy Osten is preparing to resubmit legislation aimed at resolving gaming issues that have occupied lawmakers for years.

Osten, the Sprague Democrat, said Monday she is meeting this week with colleagues regarding the Connecticut Jobs and Revenue Act, the measure calling for the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes to invest in a Bridgeport gaming facility while granting them the right to offer sports betting and online gaming.

Proponents of the bill, unveiled in July, had hoped it would be considered at a special legislative session. It failed, however, to gain favor with Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration.

Osten said she’s worked on the bill’s “revenue side,” adding a provision that would increase the gaming revenue directed to eastern Connecticut municipalities, particularly those closest to Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun.

“I’d like it all in one bill; that’s my goal,” she said. “Eastern Connecticut has always gotten the jobs (generated by the casinos) but not enough of the revenue. My concern is that it doesn’t get its fair share.”

She said she’d like the amount of gaming revenue distributed to cities and towns through the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan Fund to be restored to the peak level it reached some 20 years ago. From fiscal years 1998 through 2002, the fund ranged from $130 million to $135 million a year. In fiscal 2019, with the state’s 25% share of the casinos’ slots revenues falling to $255.2 million, the lowest point in decades, the fund distributed $49.9 million, the smallest amount ever.

The state’s current budget calls for the fund to distribute $51.5 million.

Osten said the fund could be restored to earlier levels once the state’s proposed third casino, a joint tribal venture, opens in East Windsor. A law enacted in 2017 specifies that the tribes would divert 25% of the East Windsor casino’s gaming revenue — that generated by table games as well as slots — to the state.

Additional gaming revenue would be generated by sports betting, which the state would tax, and online state lottery sales, Osten said.

While the Lamont administration said the earlier version of Osten’s bill fell short of achieving the desired “global resolution” of gaming issues, it has indicated it wants to move forward on sports betting, which has been legalized in a growing number of Northeast gaming states, including New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

In Connecticut, the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes’ gaming agreements with the state, which they maintain grant them the exclusive right to provide sports betting, have complicated matters.

“The administration has had discussions with the tribes over the past month and views 2020 as a key time to get moving on legalizing sports betting,” Max Reiss, the governor’s director of communications, wrote in an email Monday. “We want to continue those discussions during the upcoming session, as it is important for the state not to be left out of this new opportunity.”

The tribes’ East Windsor casino project has been stalled amid litigation brought by MGM Resorts International, which opened a resort casino in Springfield, Mass., in 2018. The Lamont administration had hoped the tribes would abandon their East Windsor project in favor of one in Bridgeport, an option the tribes rejected.

The General Assembly convenes Feb. 5.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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