State Senator Cathy Osten, A Democrat from Sprague, is prepared to resubmit gaming legislation two weeks before the 2020 session of the General Assembly. Osten says the legislation is designed to finally resolve gaming issues that have stumped lawmakers for many years.
Senator Osten is meeting with her colleagues regarding the Connecticut Jobs and Revenue Act. This measure called for the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes to invest tribal money into a Bridgeport Connecticut gaming facility while granting the tribes the rights to online gaming and sports betting.
Proponents of Osten’s bill, first disclosed last July, had high hopes the bill would be considered at a special legislative session. However, the proposed idea failed to gain the support of Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration.
Osten mentioned that she’s revised the bill’s revenue aspects, by adding a provision that would send more of the gaming revenue to the eastern Connecticut municipalities, especially those closest to the Mohegan Sun and the Foxwoods Resort Casino.
“My goal is to put it all in a single bill, she said. “Eastern Connecticut has always received the casino jobs but not enough of the revenue. I’m concerned that Eastern Connecticut doesn’t get a fair share.”
She also added that she’d like to see the gaming revenue distributed to the towns and cities through the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan Fund to regain the peak levels that were achieved 20 years ago.
The peak fiscal years were 1998 through 2002, when the funds were between $130 million to $135 million every year. However, in the fiscal year 2019, the state’s 25% share of the casinos’ slot machine revenue fell to only $255.2 million, which meant the money that could be distributed through the fund was only $49.9 million. This is the smallest amount ever to be distributed to the municipalities.
Currently, the state’s budget plans to distribute $51.5 million from the fund, so that is a small improvement over the previous year.
Osten is optimistic that the fund could be restored to higher levels as soon as the state’s third casino, a proposed joint venture between the two tribes, opens in East Windsor. A 2017 law stipulates that the tribes would send 25% of the new East Windsor casino’s gaming revenue to the state. That would include both revenues generated by table games as well as slot machines.
Osten also noted that more gaming revenue would come from sports betting and online state lottery sales, which the state would tax.
While the current administration pointed out that the earlier version of Osten’s bill did not achieve a desirable “global resolution” regarding gaming issues, Lamont has indicated his administration wants to move forward with sports betting. Sports betting has been legalized in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. In fact, legalized sports betting is a growing trend in several Northeast gaming states. In New Jersey in particular, the online gaming industry is booming according to njgamblingfun.com.
However, the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes’ gaming agreements with Connecticut complicate matters. The tribes maintain the agreements to grant them the exclusive right to provide sports betting.
Max Reiss, the governor’s director of communications, stated , “The administration has had discussions with the tribes recently and views 2020 as a good time to move forward on legalizing sports betting. We’d like to continue the discussions throughout the upcoming session. It’s important for the state of Connecticut not to be left behind with this new opportunity.”
The tribes’ proposed East Windsor casino has been halted, due to litigation brought by MGM Resorts International. MGM resorts recently opened a resort casino in Springfield, Mass., which is only a 20-minute drive from East Windsor. The Lamont administration had hopes that the tribes would discard their plans for East Windsor in favor of a casino in Bridgeport, but the tribes rejected that idea.
The General Assembly convening Feb. 5 will consider and decide the matter.