State lawmakers are revisiting a proposal to greatly expand the gambling reach of Connecticut’s two federally recognized tribes, but the governor expressed doubts Tuesday whether that’s the right approach this year.
Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont, who previously sought a wide-ranging gambling agreement, said the General Assembly should instead support a simpler, competing bill that would authorize the tribes, the state’s lottery and existing off-track betting operators in Connecticut to conduct sports wagering.
“It also builds upon the state’s existing partnership with the tribes, is more likely to withstand legal challenges from third party competitors, and promotes a fair and competitive sports betting market outside the tribes’ reservations,” said Max Reiss, Lamont’s spokesman, in a written statement.
A coalition of lawmakers from eastern Connecticut and Bridgeport are pushing for a bill this session that would authorize only the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes to operate retail and online sports betting in Connecticut, as well as open new gambling establishments in Bridgeport and several other cities, among other changes. A similar effort was proposed last year but hit a dead end.
Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, a Democrat, said now is the right time to pass the legislation considering economic development efforts currently underway, such as the new Harbor Yard Amphitheater, a joint venture between Live Nation and the city of Bridgeport. Under the proposed legislation, the tribes would be authorized to spend at least $100 million on a casino in the city.
“It’s a piece, I think an exciting piece, of what we’re doing on the waterfront,” Ganim told members of the Public Safety and Security Committee in a legislative public hearing.
Connecticut has lagged behind other states in legalizing sports betting because of its existing, complicated relationship with the two tribes, whose two southeastern Connecticut casinos provide the state 25% of their slot machine revenues, which amounts to about $270 million annually. In return, the state grants the tribes certain exclusive gambling rights.
Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Chairman Rodney Butler reiterated Tuesday that the tribes believe they have exclusive rights to offer sports betting under that nearly 30-year-old agreement with the state. If the state allows others to offer sports betting, he said Connecticut would face a legal battle and the tribal payments would stop.
“There’s no question,” Butler warned.
Shortly after taking office in January 2019, Lamont said he wanted to achieve a “global gaming resolution that will avoid years and years of complex litigation” while strengthening the state’s gambling industry. His administration spent months trying to craft a gambling agreement that didn’t violate the state’s revenue-sharing agreement with the two tribes, avoided litigation from outside gambling interests such as MGM Resorts, and also included new sports betting and internet gambling. Emails obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request indicated Lamont thought last May he was close to finally reaching a deal with the tribes, but talks apparently hit a snag.
In December, Lamont acknowledged his goals had changed.
“Rather than maybe go for a whole hog, let’s find places where we think we can get some agreement,” he said at the time. “I’d like a global agreement. I’d like to solve everything for world peace. But in the meantime, I’m going to take what I can get.