With the NFL regular season kicking off Sept. 9, the state of Connecticut took a major step closer on Tuesday toward legalized sports wagering, online gambling and other new forms of betting after a legislative committee approved emergency regulations for the new gambling market.
Connecticut now awaits the U.S. Department of the Interior's expected approval of changes to agreements between the state and its two federally recognized tribal nations, the Mashantucket Pequots and Mohegans, who play major roles in the state's gambling expansion plan. Other steps, including codifying the Department of Interior's decision in the Federal Register and approving licenses for operators and key employees, still need to be completed before bets can be placed.
“We expect action from the federal Department of Interior within the next two weeks on the compact amendments submitted in late July, and it is our understanding that once that approval comes, the state Department of Consumer Protection will issue master wagering licenses," said Rodney Butler, the Mashantucket Pequots' tribal chairman, in a statement. "With the NFL season kickoff fast approaching, we are working to launch online gaming and sports betting as soon as we are legally allowed to do so.”
After months of work, the state Department of Consumer Protection submitted the wide-ranging package of proposed rules to the General Assembly's Regulations Review Committee under a fast-tracked process. Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont's administration and the tribes have expressed a desire to have a legalized sports wagering system up and running in time for the regular NFL season.
“The purpose of this regulation is to create a licensing structure and implement provisions for responsible gaming and data privacy protections in order to ensure consumer safety and gaming integrity for new gaming markets in our state,” DCP Commissioner Michelle H. Seagull wrote in a letter to the committee.
The panel approved the package on a 9-4 vote, with one lawmaker absent. The emergency regulations will be valid for 180 days. A vote on final regulations is expected early next year and some committee members discussed the possibility of holding a public hearing on the new rules.
Earlier this year, the General Assembly passed legislation, which Lamont signed into law, allowing only the quasi-public Connecticut Lottery Corporation and the Mashantucket Pequots and Mohegan — owners and operators of the Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun resorts — to operate in-person and online sports wagering.
The tribes, which are also allowed under the new law to offer fantasy sports contests and online casino gambling, are still awaiting necessary federal approvals from the U.S. Department of the Interior to proposed changes in their existing gambling agreements with the state of Connecticut. The tribes have expressed optimism those approvals will happen before Sept. 9.
State lawmakers, who were limited in how much they could change the emergency regulation, expressed some concerns with the proposed rules. For example, there were questions about whether gamblers will eventually be allowed to use alternative forms of payment, such as PayPal and Venmo. State Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, said he was worried about individuals with joint accounts when one person gambles away the money without the other's permission. Kissel, who voted against the regulations, also questioned the need to rush the regulations to meet the NFL deadline.
“(In) the land of steady habits, I’d rather walk instead of run. I don’t see a race here,” Kissel said. “We're behind other states as it is. I’d rather get it right.”
Seagull said the legislators will have other opportunities in the future to make changes to the regulations.
“There's going to be two more bites at the apple by policymakers," she said, referring to the upcoming vote on final regulations and the next legislative session, which convenes in February.