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Gaming-revenue bill would be boon for municipalities, tourism, community college students

A new version of a gaming-revenue bill would boost grants to cities and towns through an overhaul of the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan Fund and payments in lieu of taxes on tribal lands; fuel statewide tourism marketing and an Arts, Culture and Tourism Fund; establish a debt-free community college account; and extend alcohol sales at the casinos.

The bill’s passage is contingent on the legislature’s also approving a separate bill based on the gaming agreements Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration has negotiated with the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes, respective owners of Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun.

Both bills have emerged from the nonpartisan Legislative Commissioners’ Office, whose lawyers are charged with sharpening the language of legislative proposals.

Senate Bill 146, the revenue bill, would end the current “distribution methodologies” governing the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan Fund, and, beginning with the 2024 fiscal year, would require that $139.4 million be annually transferred to the fund from the General Fund and would specify how the money is doled out to the state’s cities and towns.

The amount is about 2.7 times greater than the $51.5 million distributed to municipalities in fiscal 2020, an amount unchanged in each of the spending plans for fiscal years 2021, 2022 and 2023. 

The fund has come from the state’s 25% cut of the tribal casinos’ slot-machine revenues. If approved, the tribe’s sports wagering and online gaming operations — outlined in the gaming-agreements measure, House Bill 6451 — also would be tapped as sources of the fund.

State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, who in 2020 drafted the first version of a bill that addressed the distribution of gaming revenues to municipalities, was motivated by a belief that eastern Connecticut towns weren’t getting their fair share. She has sought to restore the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan Fund to the peak it reached some 20 years ago. In fiscal years 1998 through 2002, the fund annually distributed from $130 million to $135 million. In fiscal 2019, the fund dipped to $49.9 million, the lowest it’s been.

Senate Bill 146 also would increase from 45% to 100% the reimbursement rate for payments the state makes to Ledyard and Montville in lieu of taxes that would have been paid on lands the federal government took into trust for the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes’ reservations, removing the lands from local tax rolls.

The bill requires that starting in fiscal 2024, $20 million in annual revenue generated by taxes on sports wagering and online gaming be deposited in the statewide tourism account, which typically funds out-of-state advertising campaigns, and another $10 million be deposited in the Arts, Culture and Tourism Fund, currently known as the Tourism Fund.

In addition, the bill would establish a separate account within the General Fund to support the debt-free community college program created in 2019 to benefit certain Connecticut high school graduates who enroll as first-time, full-time regional community or technical college students. The account would be funded by revenue the Connecticut Lottery Corp. would generate from online sales of tickets for its lottery draw games.

Such online tickets sales are another provision of House Bill 6451, the gaming-agreements bill.

Beginning in fiscal 2022, the revenue bill would double from $2.3 million to $4.6 million the annual amount the lottery is required to transfer to an account for the prevention and treatment of problem gambling.

And, the bill would allow casino permittees to sell alcohol until 4 a.m. seven days a week. Currently, such sales are limited to 1 a.m. on weekdays and to 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

 

 

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