Sports betting is no longer unique to Las Vegas. After the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal ban that prohibited states from regulating sports wagering, eight states including New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island legalized it.
Now, 23 other states including Connecticut and New York have legislation pending that would legalize sports betting -- which has become a $400 billion-a-year industry. Some legislators see legalization as a way to circumvent the gambling black market while reducing state budget deficits.
Sports betting was not included as a proposed source of revenue in Gov. Ned Lamont’s two-year budget when it was unveiled in late February. But the Democratic governor told legislators, "Beyond the two-year budget, we must enact new sources of revenues, such as sports betting and internet wagering.”
State officials have estimated that sports betting could bring in up to $80 million-a-year.
Legalization also comes with a social cost, speeding disaster for gambling addicts and their families, according to critics. The United Church of Christ and other opponents recently held protests against sports betting at the Capitol in Hartford, where legalization is being considered.
Legislation legalizing sports betting in Connecticut failed to pass last year, but proponents are hoping for a different outcome this year. There are several bills before the General Assembly proposing legalizing sports gambling this legislative session. For instance, Senate Bill 665 doesn’t say how Connecticut plans to move; it merely calls for changes in state law to permit sports betting.
Separately, House Bill 7331 was referred by the Public Safety and Security Committee to the Office of Legislative Research and Office of Fiscal Analysis. Titled "An Act Concerning Sports Wagering In The State," House Bill 7331 would legalize mobile betting statewide and allow the state Lottery, Off-Track Betting parlors and casinos to profit from sports bets. Bettors could wager on college and professional sports. Online betting would be legal, but users would first be required to register in person for an online betting account. Operators would be taxed on their wagering gross revenue at a rate of 9.89 percent. The application and renewal fees would be $100,000, in this proposed bill.
If approved by state lawmakers, two casinos operated by Native American tribes -- Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort -- would likely host a large percentage of sports betting in Connecticut. The Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes currently have exclusive rights to casino gambling in Connecticut. So far, they have been working with Gov. Lamont's office to add sports betting. Tribes in other states have been hesitant to support betting on mobile devices and internet wagering, because those modes of sports betting can reduce casino profits.
Asked if negotiations with sports betting supporters -- which include the two Connecticut tribes -- could be complete when the state legislature adopts a two-year budget before adjourning on June 8, Lamont told reporters: "I sure hope so."
States typically set aside a small percentage of the gross receipts to pay for public education and addiction programs. But "the house" usually gets at least 10 percent of bets up front to assure profitability. The American Gaming Association, based in Washington, D.C., says effective sports betting policy should focus on strong consumer protection, promoting responsible betting and advertising, protecting the integrity of sports and adopting/enforcing sound regulations.
On a separate, but related gambling front, the General Assembly is considering legislation to open a commercial casino in Bridgeport. Meanwhile, Connecticut’s two Native American tribes want to build the state's third casino in East Windsor to persuade local gamblers from going to Massachusetts' MGM casino that opened last year in Springfield.