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Sports betting likely dead this legislative session

May 8, 2019 GMT

Hartford — Gov. Ned Lamont, speaking Wednesday at the Connecticut Conference on Tourism, said ongoing talks with the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes aren’t likely to yield an agreement on sports betting during the legislative session that ends next month.

“We want a solution that’s a real solution, one that gets us out of the muck” of protracted litigation, Lamont told an audience at the Connecticut Convention Center. “We hope to get it done this session but I’m not sure we can. We’ve got a little ways to go.”

The tribes claim their gaming agreements with the state grant them the exclusive right to offer sports betting at their respective casinos, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun. Sportech Venues, which operates off-track betting in the state, and the Connecticut Lottery also want a piece of the action.

Rodney Butler, the Mashantuket chairman, who also spoke at the conference, said in an interview that the negotiations on sports betting involve on-premises and online wagering as well as a number of other gaming-related matters, including extended hours of liquor service at the casinos and a process that could lead to a Bridgeport casino.

“There are a lot of moving parts,” Butler said. “If you want a global solution, it’s very complicated.”

Butler acknowledged that the governor is intent on reaching an agreement that avoids a court challenge. Pursuing such a “perfect” outcome, he said, could require state-tribal negotiations to continue during a special legislative session after the close of the regular session, which ends at midnight June 5.

Approval of sports betting might not even come until the 2020 session of the legislature, “which would be a tragedy for the state,” Butler said.

He suggested the tribes would be agreeable to an interim solution in which the legislature would vote this session to exclusively authorize sports betting at the casinos and then revisit the issue next year.

The tribes have indicated they want permission to extend liquor service at the casinos from 2 to 4 a.m. They say the later hours would enable Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun to better compete with MGM Springfield in western Massachusetts and Encore Boston Harbor, a new casino opening next month in Everett, Mass., outside Boston. MGM Springfield has the later hours, and Encore has asked the Massachusetts Gaming Commission for permission to provide them.

Another gaming issue seemingly was resolved during the current legislative session when the U.S. Department of the Interior approved an amended version of the Mashantuckets’ gaming amendment with the state, clearing an obstacle to the tribes’ Tribal Winds Casino project in East Windsor. The Interior action made moot a bill that would have eliminated the need for the tribes to secure federal approval of their amended gaming agreements.

The 2017 legislation authorizing the East Windsor project was contingent on the federal approval.

Butler said the tribes are months away from finalizing financing for the 15.5 billion in total business sales in 2017, a 5.5 percent increase over 2015. According to a video shown on large screens during the conference luncheon, tourism provides 5.3 percent of all jobs in the state.

Tony Sheridan, president and chief executive officer of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut, said the state should not invest in a new tourism slogan at this time.

“It shouldn’t be a priority,” he said. “Any money available needs to be spent advertising the state.”

Amanda Arling, general manager of The Whaler’s Inn in Mystic, and Len Wolman, chairman and chief executive officer of the Waterford Hotel Group, received Connecticut Tourism Awards during the conference luncheon.

Arling, who joined The Whaler’s Inn staff in 2016, received the Rising Star award, which recognizes an individual who has joined the tourism industry within the last five years and has spent at least the last two years working in Connecticut. At The Whaler’s Inn, she manages a staff of more than 25 people and is responsible for marketing the property and serving as its liaison to the community.

Wolman received the Tourism Legacy Leader award, given annually to an individual who has provided “exemplary leadership” over the past 25 years. The Waterford Hotel Group manages hotels in 23 states, including the Hyatt Place Mohegan Sun and the Microtel Inn & Suites, both in Uncasville, and the Connecticut Convention Center.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com