Former Foxwoods CEO fronts MGM sports betting operation

February 27, 2019

Whether it ever opens a casino in Connecticut, MGM Resorts International could be a sports-betting player in the state, if only on mobile devices.

“We’d like to be in every state that legalizes sports betting,” Scott Butera, MGM’s president of interactive gaming, said Tuesday after testifying at a legislative hearing on gaming bills.

Providing sports betting doesn’t require a bricks-and-mortar presence, he said.

Not when an app will suffice.

“I have nothing to do with the Bridgeport thing,” Butera said, referring to MGM Resorts’ pursuit of a downstate casino, a project southeastern Connecticut’s casino-owning Indian tribes oppose.

Butera used to work for one of the tribes, the Mashantucket Pequots, serving as president and chief executive officer of the tribe’s Foxwoods Resort Casino from 2010 to 2014. During his tenure, he engineered a debt-restructuring that cut the tribe’s debt from 1.7 billion.

MGM Resorts hired Butera last June, soon after a U.S. Supreme Court decision opened the door for states to legalize sports betting.

Butera and Rodney Butler, the Mashantucket chairman, greeted each other at Tuesday’s public hearing, with Butera following Butler to the microphone.

During his testimony, Butler, serving as Foxwoods’ interim CEO, asserted that sports betting is considered a casino game, meaning it’s covered by the exclusivity provisions of the tribes’ gaming agreements with the state. In exchange for that exclusivity, the tribes turn over 25 percent of their casinos’ slot-machine winnings to the state.

“We don’t see this as a gray area,” Butler said.

Others disagree, claiming that the exclusivity provisions don’t apply to sports betting because legal sports betting in Connecticut couldn’t have been contemplated when the state and the tribes forged gaming agreements in the 1990s. A legal opinion provided last year by then-Attorney General George Jepsen supports such a view.

“I struggle with exclusivity being part of sports betting,” said Joe Verrengia, the West Hartford Democrat who co-chairs the public safety committee.

Butera said sports betting is not a casino game and that an “open, competitive environment” among operators makes the most sense. He told the committee that the Connecticut market could accommodate “perhaps six or seven players” and that sports betting in Connecticut could generate 8 million in the first year and 80 million over five years, and online keno could yield another $30 million over five years, Pineault said.

Greg Smith, president and CEO of the Connecticut Lottery Corp., testified that the lottery has asked lawmakers to consider authorizing the internet sale of all lottery “draw” games, not just keno, as has been proposed. Smith also said the lottery should be authorized to provide sports betting.

“We would use our statewide retailer network, primarily composed of small businesses, to deliver sports betting,” Smith said. “There are many options: We could have hundreds of sports betting retailers, one in every town, or a smaller number — whatever reflects the comfort level of the legislature and the administration.”

New Haven-based Sportech Venues, which operates the state’s off-track betting facilities, featuring simulcasts of horse and dog racing and jai alai, also is angling for the right to provide sports betting.

“Our venues and our digital betting platforms, plus the casinos, are already licensed and offering betting right now,” Ted Taylor, Sportech’s president, told the committee. “The existing established betting operators are uniquely positioned to seamlessly implement sports betting ...”