Legislators continue to debate gaming-related issues

Gaming

When it comes to gaming-related issues, the session is expected to evoke a sense of déjà vu — again.

Sen. Cathy Osten, the Sprague Democrat who co-chairs the Appropriations Committee and whose district includes Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun, has proposed a bill that would enable the region’s casino-owning tribes to move forward with their long-stalled East Windsor casino project.

The measure, bearing the signatures of nearly all of southeastern Connecticut's lawmakers, would eliminate the need for the federal government to sign off on the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes’ amended gaming agreements with the state. That approval, required as part of the 2017 law that authorized the project, has proved hard to obtain.

In a related issue that’s been batted around since the 2017 session, MGM Resorts International and Bridgeport-area interests are expected to renew their push for the state to adopt a competitive-bidding process that could lead to a casino in Bridgeport. A competitive-bidding bill cleared the House last year but got no further.

Rep. Joe Verrengia, the West Hartford Democrat who co-chairs the Public Safety and Security Committee, said in November that he believes the legislature will take up sports betting as part of a comprehensive approach to gaming policy. A number of states, including Rhode Island, have legalized wagering on sports since a U.S. Supreme Court decision last May striking down a federal ban on the right of states to enact such legislation. Though legal sports betting is not likely to be a huge moneymaker for the state, which would tax it, the casinos see it as vital to maintaining their competitiveness.

Osten has said she plans to introduce bills addressing the legalization of online gaming and sports betting at the tribes’ casinos and elsewhere in the state, as well as the extension of liquor-serving hours at the casinos.

Tourism

Members of an advisory committee on arts, culture and tourism have called on incoming Gov. Ned Lamont to take the lead in promoting Connecticut, which they say has fallen far behind neighboring states in its commitment to marketing attractions to potential out-of-state visitors. 

The committee recommended that 25 percent of the revenue generated by the state’s hotel room occupancy tax be diverted to an “Arts, Culture and Tourism Fund,” with 60 percent allocated to tourism and 40 percent to arts and culture.

Other recommendations that could involve legislation are the creation of a Cultural Facilities Fund modeled after one in place in Massachusetts that has spurred public and private investment in cultural facilities.

Another sign that tourism will get plenty of attention this session is House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz’s announcement in October that he plans to form a Blue Ribbon Panel on Tourism to suggest legislative proposals. The new panel’s members are to include representatives of convention and event planners, campgrounds, transportation, lodging, parks, cultural organizations, agritourism, marine trades and retail outlets.

Tourism advocates are expected to lobby for the reopening of the state’s highway Welcome Centers, which have been at least partially closed the last couple of years to save money.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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