With Potential Hurdles Cleared, Legal Connecticut Sports Betting Should Happen In 2021

After nearly three years of haggling, everything seems to be falling into place for legal Connecticut legal sports betting. And when all is said and done, the state’s two tribes will likely have a duopoly and exclusivity. That result is exactly what the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegans have been fighting for. Suffice to say, in this case, patience really does appear to be a virtue.

Last week, amid the chaos on the U.S. Capitol steps and overshadowed by the announcement by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo that he now suddenly supports statewide digital wagering, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont offered a few more words that make it appear the landscape in Connecticut has changed just enough that 2021 could be the year that lawmakers and tribal leaders finally (mercifully, if you watched any of the marathon hearings in previous years …) come to an agreement.

“Sports betting, internet gaming and legalized marijuana are happening all around us,” Lamont said Jan. 6 in his State of the State address. “Let’s not surrender these opportunities to out-of-state markets or even worse, underground markets.”

In the nearly three years since the Supreme Court overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act and put the fate of sports betting in the hands of state lawmakers, nearly half of all U.S. states have legalized. So far in New England, Rhode Island and New Hampshire have legal sports betting, and there’s a chance that both Maine and Massachusetts will legalize in 2021. There is also limited in-person sports betting available in neighboring New York, and multiple online expansion bills have been filed already this year — more importantly Gov. Andrew Cuomo now supports an expansion into the digital realm, making it possible that some form of statewide online wagering will be legalized.

Connecticut landscape has changed

For three years, Sen. Cathy Osten has been doing her best to shepherd a Connecticut mobile sports betting bill through the state legislature. But those efforts have been met with resistance from other legislators (Rep. Joe Verrengia, who isn’t back) and potential stakeholders (MGM wanted to build a casino in Connecticut), and negotiations with two different governors, Daniel Malloy and Lamont, were difficult, at best.

But, as Mashantucket Pequot chairman Rodney Butler said on a webinar in December, “In fairness, give [Lamont] the benefit of the doubt, it was a learning curve and [new lawmakers] didn’t fully appreciate what [the tribes] had done for the government, for the state. And they didn’t understand what sovereignty meant. But it was critical [to get them to understand] and it took longer than we wanted, but they needed to understand what sovereignty means and what a government-to-government relationship means.”

Updated bill in the making?

Now that the governor is apparently on the same page as the tribes, Osten is reportedly circulating a revised version of her sports betting bill, which would allow for a duopoly and calls on the governor to renegotiate tribal pacts. The legislature went back into session on Jan. 6 and has until June 9 to push a bill through. Should that happen, it would seem that sports betting could start relatively quickly in Connecticut.

The tribes run the only two casinos in the state, and both have deep backgrounds in gaming (Foxwoods opened in the 1980s), meaning they should be able to get the retail side up and running quickly. And late last year, the Mashantucket Pequot, who own and operate the Foxwoods Casino, announced a partnership with DraftKings, which should have little trouble launching a mobile site in the state quickly. A holdup could be the promulgation of rules, though the tribes have been contemplating sports betting long enough that it’s probable they’ve already been working on rules in the background.

Mohegan Sun in 2019, obviously well in advance of legalization, announced that it had selected Kambi Sports to manage its eventual retail sportsbook and online sports betting operations. In Pennsylvania, Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment is partnered with Unibet Sportsbook, which is housed at the Mohegan Sun Pocono casino and is the tribe’s online sportsbook arm in the Keystone State. Unibet uses Kambi as its odds supplier.

Sources say it’s unclear if the Mohegan tribe will use its own label in the online space in Connecticut, where the Mohegan Sun name is well-known, or if it will go to market with Unibet, or another brand. There’s no doubt that DraftKings rival FanDuel would want in, as would other major operators.

Inquiries to Osten’s office went unanswered this week, but the table is clearly set for legal sports betting in Connecticut.

The question now is just this: When?

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