Proposals to expand online gambling in Connecticut have not found favor with Governor Ned Lamont, who fears they will lead to years of litigation.
Last month, bipartisan proposals to expand online gambling in Connecticut were published by the General Assembly. The “working draft” (PDF) paves the way for a third tribal casino in Bridgeport, authorizes land-based sports betting at tribal casinos, gives tribal entities the option to offer online sports gambling, and allows the Connecticut Lottery to sell tickets online.
The proposals differ from those floated earlier this year inasmuch as they corner the state´s two tribes into opening a joint casino in Bridgeport rather than their preferred location of East Windsor, and only authorize on-premises and online sports betting rather than online casinos and online poker. The only entity likely to be happy with the proposals is the Connecticut Lottery Corporation, which will now be able to sell a full range of services online, rather than being limited to Keno games and scratch cards.
The Location Issue is the Major Stumbling Block
For years, the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribal nations have been trying to open a joint casino in East Windsor on the border with Massachusetts. At present, gamblers in the north of Connecticut travel across state lines in order to gamble at the MGM Grand Casino in Springfield, and the tribes – whose casinos are located in the south-east corner of the state – want a piece of the action.
The MGM obviously doesn´t want the competition, and the casino lobbied hard to prevent approval for the East Windsor casino being granted by the U.S. Department of the Interior, which has the final say over changes to state/tribal compacts. However, by the time approval was denied, the two tribes had already sunk more than $20 million into the project which they are not prepared to walk away from.
Several Alternate Locations Have Been Suggested
Several alternate locations have been suggested. Bridgeport – in the south-west of Connecticut – would give the tribes access to gamblers from New York, but New York´s brick-and-mortar casinos are struggling to meet ambitious revenue projections, and the two tribes don´t want the new casino located adjacent to an already over-saturated market.
As a compromise, Governor Lamont has suggested the XL Center in the state´s capital of Hartford. This would give the tribes access to a larger customer base and is only twenty-six miles from the MGM Grand Casino in Springfield, so would achieve the objective of attracting gamblers currently crossing the northern state border. However, the tribes have shown no interest in investing in the site, which also hosts concerts, minor league hockey, and University of Connecticut basketball games.
Where the Litigation is Likely to Come From
Almost certainly MGM will contest the placement of a casino anywhere close to its existing customer base in north Connecticut. The company has said in the past it will “vigorously advocate in the courts” for a competitive process in the selection of a new casino location and insist on its constitutional right to conduct business in Connecticut.
A slightly smaller threat of litigation will come from SportTech. The company operates Connecticut´s sixteen off-track betting facilities and an online betting service, and believes if the tribes are permitted to offer online sports betting, it should be as well. As Governor Lamont is apprehensive about both sources delaying an expansion of online gambling in Connecticut, he has indicated he wants to resolve the two company´s complaints before allowing the recently introduced proposals to go any further.