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Connecticut Governor Clashes With Tribes on Sports Betting

3rd March, 23:04

Under bill, Mohegan and Mashantucket would only have rights to such wagering on their reservations By Joseph De Avila Joseph De Avila The Wall Street Journal BiographyJoseph De Avila @jdeavila joseph.deavila@wsj.com March 3, 2020 5:27 pm ET

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont threw his support behind a bill that would allow multiple operators to begin offering sports betting in the state, putting him at odds with the tribes that run Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort Casino.

Under the bill, Mohegan Tribe and Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation would only have rights to sports wagering on their reservations. The Connecticut Lottery and existing off-track-betting companies would be permitted to run sports-betting operations elsewhere in the state.

The tribes, on the other hand, back separate legislation that gives them exclusive rights, both on and off their reservations in Connecticut, to legalized sports wagering and other forms of online betting. That proposal would also allow them to open a jointly run casino in Bridgeport.

The Democratic governor's preference is a simpler approach because it addresses sports betting alone and excludes for now other online betting games and the Bridgeport casino, Max Reiss, a spokesman for Mr. Lamont, said in a statement. It is also more likely to be passed this year, Mr. Reiss said.

"It also builds upon the state's existing partnership with the tribes, is more likely to withstand legal challenges from third party competitors, and promotes a fair and competitive sports betting market outside the tribes' reservations," Mr. Reiss said Tuesday.

Both tribes pushed back against the message coming from the Lamont administration.

"Unfortunately, Governor Lamont appears to be saying that the state can either adopt his singular proposal on gaming, or do nothing at all," said James Gessner, chairman of the Mohegan Tribe, in a statement. "That simply isn't true. The Governor's proposal would put both the tribal nations and the State of Connecticut in an untenable position, resulting in certain litigation."

Mashantucket Pequot Chairman Rodney Butler, speaking during a public hearing on the matter Tuesday before the legislature's Public Safety and Security Committee, said allowing other operators a piece of sports betting would amount to a breach in the current agreements with the state that give the tribes exclusive rights to gambling in Connecticut.

"We maintain that sport betting falls within our current exclusivity agreement with the state," Mr. Butler said. "While we appreciate that that may be a bone of contention for some, our position on that accord won't change."

If the legislature passes a law allowing other operators to offer sports betting, the tribes would no longer be obligated to provide the state with 25% of their slot take as outlined under their current agreements, Mr. Butler said. That comes out to about $250 million annually.

Any dispute over the agreements would ultimately have to be resolved by federal courts and federal agencies, Mr. Butler said.

The positions of the tribes and the governor have left Connecticut deadlocked on sports betting for the moment. But Mr. Butler told lawmakers that there is room for compromise.

"We've always been open to conversations that recognize and appreciate our agreements," Mr. Butler said.

Write to Joseph De Avila at joseph.deavila@wsj.com

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