A key committee approved sports betting legislation Tuesday as some lawmakers said Connecticut is falling behind in the highly competitive world of sports gambling.
Lawmakers supported a bill that would allow sports betting across the state at casinos, the state lottery and off-track betting parlors and a second bill that would limit sports betting to the tribes that operate the state’s two casinos.
The committee approved the two bills on a bipartisan basis in a move that was only the first step in the process. The details on the issue are subject to change in the months leading up to the end of the legislative session on June 5.
Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford, said he was concerned with sports betting because he knew a friend who had once considered committing suicide due to extensive problems with gambling. That friend, he said, is still alive.
“I don’t see this as a benefit to our state, other than monetarily,” Fishbein said.
Rep. Kurt Vail, R-Stafford, questioned why there would be no betting on in-state college teams, such as UConn and Yale. He said it would not make sense, for example, that fans could not bet on all 68 teams in this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament
“I don’t see how any way, shape or form you can police this,” Vail said. “We need to either include all of them or exclude all of them.”
But Sen. Dennis Bradley, D-Bridgeport, said Connecticut was simply following the lead of other states regarding how in-state colleges would be treated.
Sen. Steve Cassano, D-Manchester, said illegal sports betting is happening right now, particularly with the NCAA basketball tournament.
“It is going on every day, so the state of Connecticut is saying, ‘We want a piece of the action,’ ” Cassano said. “We’re getting in on the action — is what it comes down to. … That’s why I support the bill.”
Sen. Tony Hwang, an opponent of increased gambling, urged caution on the issue, despite a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that allows states to legalize sports gambling.
“I’m concerned because we have not had enough anecdotal data to do what is right,” said Hwang, a Fairfield Republican. “We have not yet fully understood how we’re going to manage this process.”
Betting would be restricted to bettors above the age of 21.
Sen. Dan Champagne, R-Vernon, said he was concerned the bill would allow gamblers to use a credit card, saying he fears that could quickly lead to increased gambling. He later opposed another bill regarding online lottery draw games that could be done with a credit card.
“Buying lottery tickets on credit shouldn’t happen,” Champagne said.
The Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes have said they believe they have exclusive rights to sports betting, but then-state Attorney General George Jepsen issued an opinion last year that they do not. The Lamont administration has held talks with the tribes, but officials have declined to provide details.
Some legislators have been concerned enacting sports betting could violate compacts that give the tribes exclusive rights for slot machines in Connecticut in return for giving the state 25 percent of the proceeds. That money is estimated to reach $250 million this year.
The tribes did not seek to block the sports betting bill that would allow for other operators. Mohegan Sun currently handles sports betting in New Jersey, as do other competitors.
“We believe that Connecticut should move forward with both sports wagering and online gaming as soon as possible,” said Chuck Bunnell, chief of staff for the Mohegan tribe.
“The gaming landscape is very competitive in New England, and the longer Connecticut delays entering this entertainment market, the more difficult it will be to grow our markets and protect Connecticut jobs and revenue.
“All these issues must be done understanding how any expansion of legalized gaming impacts the compact that the state has negotiated with the two federally recognized Connecticut tribes.”
While estimates have varied, nonpartisan analysts have said the state could receive $20 million a year from sports betting.
A U.S. Supreme Court decision in May 2018 paved the way for states to adopt sports betting, and at least eight states already have done so.