Connecticut House votes 122-21 to legalize online gambling



Reps Maria Horn, D-Salisbury and Rep. Greg Howard, R-North Stonington celebrate the bipartisan passage of the bill they introduced in the House.

Connecticut reached a tipping point in its long and complicated relationship with gambling on Thursday when the House voted 122-21 for a bill that would make casino gambling, sports betting and lottery sales accessible to any adult. with an Internet connection.

After years of false starts, the measure is the first comprehensive update to gambling laws since the two federally recognized tribes opened the Foxwoods Resorts Casino and the Mohegan Sun in the 1990s.

It authorizes the CT Lottery and the two casinos to take sports bets and the casinos to offer virtual versions of slots and table games, a source of new revenue for casinos beaten by COVID-19 and the competition.

The overwhelming vote in favor reflects a cultural and political shift in a state that banned alcohol sales on Good Friday until an unfavorable court ruling in 1981 and clung to blue Sunday laws in the new millennium.

The passage in the Senate and the signature of Governor Ned Lamont are sure bets. When it becomes law, amendments to the state’s pact with the tribes, the Mashantucket Pequots and Mohegans, will be considered by the Home Office.

“I look forward to the swift passage of this measure in the Senate, so that we can begin the federal process to ensure that this legislation and this agreement are authorized,” said Mr. Lamont.

Lamont struck a deal in March with the tribes, who insisted their exclusive rights to casino games included sports betting. In 2018, the United States Supreme Court overturned a federal sports betting ban, resulting in rapid legalization.

“More than half of the states in the country have taken steps to legalize it,” said Representative Maria Horn, D-Salisbury, who led the passage as co-chair of the Public Safety and Security Committee. “And I would bet a lot of people in this place, let alone the people of Connecticut, got involved in sports betting in some way or another.”

But expansion has been an issue for even longer, motivated by the prospect of competition in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York.

“We’ve been preparing for five years, and I think today is a big day for the state of Connecticut,” said Rep. Greg Howard, R-North Stonington.

The goal is to have a framework in place by the start of the NFL season to place sports bets at casinos, 15 physical lottery-controlled locations and online. The state will initially levy 18% tax on online casino games, increasing to 20% after five years; and 13.75% on sports betting.

The Office of Fiscal Analysis projects that the state will collect $ 19.3 million in taxes on sports betting and $ 8.6 million on online gambling in the fiscal year that begins on the 1st. July, with significant growth in subsequent years which Horn estimates could reach $ 83 million.

Sports betting and online gambling would be open to anyone 21 and over, but only if the player was in Connecticut.

Sportech, the off-track betting operator in Connecticut, has been excluded from the deal, but CT Lottery is expected to offer it licenses to operate physical venues.

Horn kept its promise to add consumer protections to a Lamont administration bill that was silent on any guarantees that could be imposed on games of chance that would be available 24/7 on any location. what smartphone.

“There’s no question that the expansion of the game is lowering the barriers to entry in a way, because you don’t have to physically go to a casino anymore,” Horn said. “You will be able to play on your phone. But this goes hand in hand with the possibility of having improved protections. “

Reflecting an agreement the Lamont administration made with the tribes, each of the casino owners will contribute $ 500,000 per year to support problem gambling programs. The lottery will increase its contribution by $ 1 million to $ 3.3 million.

But more than money, the bill describes a framework of guarantees, such as periodic reminders of how long a player is online, credit limits and the ability to self-exclude, Horn said. . The Department of Consumer Protection will develop a regulatory structure.

“There should be clear displays on your phone, no matter what device you use to gamble online, clear displays of time spent, ways to initiate a pause during gambling and to display the amount of money spent. ‘cash on hand, as well as self-exclusion programs, “Horn said, describing them as a way” to hope to catch addictive behavior before it gets too far. “

Betting on UConn and other state college teams will be prohibited, except for parentheses in NCAA tournaments.

The bill does not meet aggressive Massachusetts requirements for long-term monitoring of gambling habits, nor does it create a gambling commission with the sole mission of overseeing the industry. The Department of Consumer Protection, where gambling oversight is one of the seven divisions, will remain the regulatory authority.

House Minority Leader Vincent J. Candelora of R-North Branford said in an interview that passage was inevitable once the governor and the tribes came to an agreement.

“I think COVID has played a role in the impact of our casinos, that there is a vested interest in keeping them alive,” Candelora said. “I think, myself included, that we appreciate more the number of jobs they offer in eastern Connecticut. And so I think it kind of helped psychologically get the bill through to a deal.

Horn said the pandemic and the threat to the economic stability of casinos – both tribes have huge debt and the Pequots have struggled to honor even their restructured obligations – have simplified what had been a complex issue.

“It focuses their minds. There were a lot of people who were thinking of an idealized deal before, who were now ready to sit together in a room and make a deal. And I think that’s ultimately what happened, ”Horn said ahead of the debate.

Its vice president, Rep. Al Paolillo Jr., D-New Haven, said, “I think there was a clear sense on all sides that this was the year.”

Representative Anne Hughes, D-Easton, chair of the Progressive Caucus, told her colleagues during the relatively brief debate that concern about the effectiveness of the guarantees against problem gambling was a reason for her opposition. Of online gambling, she said, “it is designed to be very addictive.”

Nine Democrats and 12 Republicans voted no, a mix of liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans.

Several of the opponents were lawmakers from districts in and around East Windsor, the site of a casino the tribes were allowed to build in 2017 to compete with MGM Springfield. The tribes have never innovated, as the market for new casinos has weakened. The bill suspends the authorization for 10 years.

The bill creates a licensing process for fantasy sports, which has been offered by DraftKings and FanDuel in Connecticut for a decade in what Horn called “murky” legal circumstances. One small difficulty in including them: Once the measure goes into effect, it looks like DraftKings and FanDuel will have to suspend operations in the state until regulations are passed and licenses issued.

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