Sports betting law should await next legislature
It appears reasonable to push approval of sports betting in the state to the next legislative session. A new governor and General Assembly take office January 9.
But moving forward should be a priority and not drag out through the entire session. Progress in negotiations between the state’s two tribal casino operators and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy can serve as a baseline for the next governor.
A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in May opened the door for states to legalize sports betting, striking down a federal law that prohibited the practice in all but Nevada. New Jersey had challenged the law in an effort to boost its casino and off-track betting operations.
Since then four states, including New Jersey, have made sports betting lawful and three states — New York, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania − have passed laws that will do so.
While Connecticut’s political leaders have faced criticism for not moving faster to introduce sports betting to a state that is already home to two of the world’s largest casinos, it is those casinos that complicate matters.
The Mohegan Tribe, operators of Mohegan Sun, and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, operators of Foxwoods Resort, have compacts with the state that send 25 percent of slots revenue to the state in return for the exclusive rights to all forms of casino gambling.
The tribes have taken the position that sports betting, for years offered at Las Vegas casinos, is one more form of casino gambling to which they have exclusive rights. Attorney General George Jepsen, who will also be leaving office, has taken a different position. Because sports betting is not specifically cited in the compacts, Jepsen concludes that if Connecticut allowed sports betting outside the casinos it would not violate the compacts.
Malloy has taken the right position in trying to broker a deal with the tribes. A deal would avoid the potential for extended litigation, sidestep the risk of losing the slot revenues, and protect the interests of what are two major employers in our region.
Any deal involving the tribes would have to be approved by the General Assembly and the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Day Staff Writer Brian Hallenbeck has reported a tentative agreement would allow for sports betting online and at the tribes’ casinos, as well as at selected off-track betting locations. The casinos could accept bets on both the outcome of games and “prop bets,” which are bets tied to individual performance or that do not involve winning — such as yards rushed by an NFL running back or which team scores first.
Non-casino operators could only accept bets on the outcome of sporting events.
It has the appearances of a reasonable compromise, but it is understandable that Republicans would be unwilling to rush through approval in a special session. It is a significant decision with substantial implications for Connecticut and its relationship with the tribes and it should be left to the leaders who will be elected in less than two months.
Some Republicans have complained that Malloy did not get a great deal when the tribes signed off on allowing the state lottery to offer a Keno game, in return for the tribes getting 25 percent of the resulting revenues.
A recent poll found 50 percent of Americans support the legalization of sports betting and 37 percent oppose it. It could produce significant revenues for the state, but estimates of how much vary wildly.
However the details play out, at this late date it should not be a lame-duck governor and legislature setting the odds and the rules for years to come.