Republican Rich Deecken, who faces incumbent Marilyn Moore in the general election for the 22nd State Senate District seat covering all of Trumbull and portions of Bridgeport and Monroe, shares in this commentary “Bridgeport’s delegation must insert themselves into the negotiation process, and ensure that, instead of a piecemeal approach, nothing less than a comprehensive rewrite of Connecticut’s gaming laws–including an open, competitive bidding process for casino gaming licenses, as well as passing enabling legislation for sports betting–takes place as soon as possible.”
Governor Malloy, eastern Connecticut and Hartford legislators need Bridgeport’s help in passing legislation that would allow the Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos, licensed off-track betting establishments, and the Connecticut Lottery Corporation to offer sports betting.
Since the US Supreme Court’s recent ruling allowing states to establish regulations for sports betting, Connecticut has not acted on this opportunity. Legalized sports betting require enabling legislation from the Connecticut General Assembly. Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun assert that they already have the exclusive right to sports betting in Connecticut under their Class III gaming license in their existing compacts. However, state Attorney General George Jepsen has issued a legal opinion disagreeing with the tribes.
In the 2018 session, the State House narrowly passed HB 5305, a bill that would establish a competitive gaming process in Connecticut. Unfortunately, senators from southeastern Connecticut and Hartford fought the legislation from reaching a debate and vote in the State Senate before the end of the session.
While Governor Malloy, the tribal gaming monopoly, and their legislators in southeastern Connecticut and Hartford would claim that the issues of competitive gaming and sports betting are mutually exclusive issues, they are not. While Class III gaming currently exists within the respective compacts between the State of Connecticut and the Mashantucket Pequots and Mohegan tribes, the landscape of gaming in the tristate area and New England has changed significantly since the compacts were signed a quarter-century ago.
Massachusetts has recently passed comprehensive gaming laws, and multiple casinos are scheduled to open in the Bay State within the next year, providing competition to the Connecticut tribal casinos that have enjoyed exclusive gaming rights in New England for more than two decades. Connecticut cannot continue to address changes in the gaming industry in a piecemeal approach as it has done for years.
Now is the time for comprehensive gaming reform, encompassing both sports betting and a competitive bidding process for awarding casino gaming rights. Bridgeport’s legislative delegation must demand that a complete rewrite of gaming regulations–not simply awarding casino licenses or allowing sports betting–must take place, and the delegation should be actively involved in the ongoing negotiation process.
While these negotiations on sports betting take place, consider this: is the current state senator from District 22 actively involved in sports betting negotiations and advocating for Bridgeport? When Bridgeport’s state representatives achieved victory in passing competitive gaming legislation in the State House, the current state senator was not present with the rest of the Bridgeport delegation at their meeting with representatives of MGM. This picture is worth a thousand words. It is important to note her absence, the inability of the State Senate to call a vote on the House casino bill, and her support and affirmative vote for the tribal joint venture casino in East Windsor in 2017. Is this all a coincidence?
Fear has crippled our leaders and it has led to poor decisions for the past 25 years. The tribal gaming monopoly has now become too big to fail. Despite years of declining slot revenues and future projections of declining revenues from the Pequot-Mohegan fund, we continue to wilt to the demands of the state gaming monopoly in southeastern Connecticut and settle for less money. Protectionism does not work, and the tribes will now face imminent competition from the Springfield casino which opens on August 24, 2018, and a casino on the shores of Boston Harbor in June 2019.
Sports betting is not yet an exclusive right of the tribes. Bridgeport’s delegation must insert themselves into the negotiation process, and ensure that, instead of a piecemeal approach, nothing less than a comprehensive rewrite of Connecticut’s gaming laws–including an open, competitive bidding process for casino gaming licenses, as well as passing enabling legislation for sports betting–takes place as soon as possible. This is a golden opportunity for Bridgeport to reassert itself as a state powerhouse in legislative affairs.