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Tribal supporters, MGM seek to be part of sports betting

January 8, 2019

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Various factions have begun angling to get a piece of the action if Connecticut pushes ahead with legalizing sports gambling in the new legislative session, which opens Wednesday.

The southeastern Connecticut legislative delegation announced Monday it has submitted bipartisan legislation to amend state law and allow online and in-person sports betting at Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort Casino. They argue it makes sense to let the tribes operate any new operation, given the long-standing relationship the state has with the Mohegans and Mashantucket Pequots.

Meanwhile, an executive from MGM Resorts International said Tuesday the casino company wants to take Democratic Gov.-elect Ned Lamont up on his recent proposal to meet with the tribes and MGM on the sports betting issue.

“We agree that such a discussion is in the state’s best interest, and we are prepared to take him up on his suggestion immediately,” said Uri Clinton, senior vice president and legal counsel for MGM Resorts.

Other entities are also expected to weigh in on what, if anything, the General Assembly proposes in light of a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that cleared the way for states to legalize sports betting. Officials from the Connecticut Lottery Corporation, for example, last year testified they were prepared to operate sports betting in a regulated and safe environment for gamblers.

House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said Tuesday that many details need to be ironed out before a decision can be made as to what path Connecticut will take when it comes to sports betting. The list includes things like protecting college sports and children, deciding whether it should be allowed on smart phones and whether people can bet on just a game or something very specific like a pitch in a baseball game. There have also been questions about whether allowing someone other than the tribes to offer sports betting would violate a revenue-sharing agreement they have with the state.

“We will get it done. We have to get it right,” said Klarides, adding, “I’m more than happy to sit down and negotiate what it looks like without having a full-blown study on it.”

Klarides, however, appeared unenthusiastic about the bill allowing the tribes to handle any new sports betting operation, despite their long-standing relationship with the state of Connecticut.

“I just don’t think any one entity should be favored over another,” she said.

State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, whose district includes the tribal casinos, has argued that only a “relatively simple regulatory fix” would be needed to enable the tribes run any sports betting operation. That, she said, would allow Connecticut to quickly compete with nearby states like Rhode Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware that offer legalized betting on sports.

“We have the infrastructure with the tribal casinos, we can use the new revenue, and we’ve got bipartisan support,” Osten added. “This should be an early session success story.”

The southeastern Connecticut delegation in 2017 successfully pushed for legislation allowing the tribes to open an off-reservation casino in East Windsor, so they could better compete with MGM’s new casino in nearby Springfield, Massachusetts, and ultimately protect jobs at their existing casinos in Ledyard and Montville. That project, however, has faced delays due to the lack of federal approval. The delegation last month filed another bill that would allow the tribes to bypass that approval in hopes of enabling them to finally open the new, jointly owned and operated casino.

But there remains interest among legislators in other parts of Connecticut in allowing a private off-reservation casino in other parts of the state, such as Bridgeport. There are also lawmakers who oppose authorizing any more gambling.

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