Gambling bills get initial OK; more discussion expected

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut lawmakers advanced several bills Tuesday that touch on nearly every aspect of gambling in Connecticut, including adding more casinos and legalized sports wagering.

But members of the General Assembly's Public Safety Committee noted how many details of the proposals, some of which are at odds with one another, remain unfinished and mostly likely must await the result of negotiations currently under way with Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont.

"I know that there's a lot more people than in this room that need to be part of this discussion," said state Rep. Pat Boyd, D-Pomfret. Lamont has met privately with the state's two federally recognized tribal nations, the owners and operators of Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort Casino. The tribes' revenue-sharing agreement with the state could be at risk if additional gambling is authorized in Connecticut, given that the tribes currently have exclusive rights to certain forms of gambling in exchange for providing the state 25 percent of the casinos' slot machine revenues.

"This is like we're in chapter two of a pretty long book," Boyd said. "This legislature needs to think long and hard about what we're doing long-term."

The committee on Tuesday voted in favor of bills that would establish a competitive bidding process for another casino in the state, possibly in Bridgeport, and allow a planned East Windsor casino owned and operated by the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes to open without a long-delayed federal approval, as was required under a previous state law.

The tribes have said they need the satellite casino to blunt competition from MGM Resorts' new casino in nearby Springfield, Massachusetts.

Tribal leaders had originally hoped to open the casino before MGM opened its doors last August, but their plans were stymied by the U.S. Department of Interior, which refused to sign off on an amended revenue-sharing agreement between the state and the tribes. A federal investigation into former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinnke and his agency's handling of the matter is under way. He has dismissed the allegations as politically motivated.

"It doesn't take rocket science to figure out that something was terribly amiss with that process," said state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, a proponent of the legislation scrapping the required federal approval.

The committee on Tuesday also advanced bills legalizing sports wagering; internet gambling; internet keno, a lottery-like gambling game; and online state lottery draw games. It's unclear whether those bills will ultimately become law. Some lawmakers raised concerns about the details, such as why the legislation would bar betting on Connecticut college sports teams but not betting on out-of-state college teams.

State Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford, questioned why Connecticut wasn't waiting to see how legalized sports betting works out in other states before enacting it.

"I don't see this being a benefit to our state other than monetarily," he said. "And I think that's wrong."

Lawmakers also gave the go-ahead to bills that study the side effects of legalized gambling, create a new Commission on Gaming, and create more funding for treatment for problem gambling.