⏩ La­mont: No deal on gam­bling this ses­sion.

The News-Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Mark Pazniokas

Gov. Ned La­mont’s ef­forts to ne­go­ti­ate a grand bar­gain with the states’ two fed­er­ally rec­og­nized tribes about casino ex­pan­sion and the le­gal­iza­tion of sports bet­ting have stalled, most likely sig­nal­ing that the 2019 leg­isla­tive ses­sion will end next month with­out pas­sage of a ma­jor gam­bling bill.

On his way into a tourism con­fer­ence in Hart­ford on Wed­nes­day, the gover­nor told CT Mir­ror, “We’re try­ing to get some­thing done, but we’re not go­ing to get it done in this ses­sion.”

The La­mont ad­min­is­tra­tion has been talk­ing for months with the tribal own­ers of Fox­woods Re­sort Casino and Mo­he­gan Sun, which have ex­clu­sive rights to casino gam­bling in Con­necti­cut, and MGM Re­sorts In­ter­na­tional, a re­gional com­peti­tor that re­cently opened a casino in Spring­field, Mass., and pur­chased a video-only “ra­cino” in Yonkers, N.Y.

Sports bet­ting — whether on­line or at the casi­nos, off-track bet­ting par­lors or other lo­cales — is in­ter­twined with Con­necti­cut’s com­pli­cated gam­bling re­la­tion­ship with the tribes, as well as the tribes’ fight with MGM for mar­ket share. La­mont is open to le­gal­iz­ing sports bet­ting, but only if his ad­min­is­tra­tion can re­solve all re­lated is­sues.

“I don’t think we’re go­ing to see it hap­pen in this ses­sion,” La­mont later told a small group of re­porters after ad­dress­ing the tourism con­fer­ence. His au­di­ence in­cluded Rod­ney But­ler, the chair­man of the Mashan­tucket Pe­quots, who lis­tened to the gover­nor take ques­tions from the press.

La­mont was asked if that as­sess­ment ap­plied to all gam­bling bills.

“From my point of view, I want a global so­lu­tion to this thing that’s been stuck in le­gal limbo for an aw­ful long time,” La­mont said. “And I’d love to make a deal with Rod­ney. I’d love to make a deal with Mo­he­gan and MGM in a way that I honor my com­pact with Rod­ney and the tribes — that in­cludes in­ter­net, it in­cludes sports. But I’m not go­ing to do it if we don’t have a global so­lu­tion.”

La­mont has been try­ing since Jan­uary to find a path out of what he called the “le­gal muck,” a con­tin­u­ing bat­tle be­tween the tribes and MGM over an East Wind­sor casino the tribes in­tend to jointly de­velop to com­pete with MGM Spring­field.

On one side are the Mashan­tucket Pe­quot and Mo­he­gan tribes, old ri­vals and casino com­peti­tors in eastern Con­necti­cut now al­lied in a fight for mar­ket share against a com­mon en­emy: MGM Re­sorts In­ter­na­tional, the Las Ve­gas gi­ant that now has a pres­ence on ei­ther side of Con­necti­cut.

Rep. Joe Ver­ren­gia, D-West Hart­ford, co-chair of the com­mit­tee that over­sees gam­bling is­sues, said he sup­ported the gover­nor’s ne­go­ti­at­ing pos­ture. “If it takes more time to get a deal done, I think that’s OK,” he said. “I think it’s more im­por­tant for the gover­nor to stand strong in his ne­go­ti­a­tions and get the best deal pos­si­ble for the state of Con­necti­cut.”

But­ler called the talks com­pli­cated, but he still ex­pressed hope of an even­tual res­o­lu­tion al­low­ing the tribes and the state to go for­ward with sports bet­ting. The tribes say sports bet­ting is a casino game, mean­ing the state needs to ne­go­ti­ate with them or face po­ten­tial lit­i­ga­tion over the ques­tion of ex­clu­siv­ity.

La­mont and But­ler walked away from re­porters at the con­fer­ence to talk pri­vately, then re­turned to take a few ques­tions. La­mont re­it­er­ated that he would love to make a deal with But­ler and the Mo­he­gans, but did not see it hap­pen­ing be­fore the ses­sion ends.

But­ler de­clined to speak in de­tail about the pa­ram­e­ters of a pos­si­ble deal or why none has been struck.

“It’s just com­pli­cated,” But­ler said. “As the gover­nor said, we’re look­ing for a global so­lu­tion, and there are a lot of mov­ing parts.”

All gam­bling is­sues in Con­necti­cut are com­pli­cated by the state’s de-facto part­ner­ship with the two tribes. In re­turn for ex­clu­siv­ity, the tribes pay the state 25 per­cent of gross slots rev­enue, which has pro­duced about $8 bil­lion for the state in the past quar­ter cen­tury.

MGM, how­ever, says it will sue to chal­lenge the 2017 pas­sage of a state law au­tho­riz­ing the tribes to jointly build a casino in East Wind­sor, which would be the first casino not built on tribal lands.

The U.S. De­part­ment of In­te­rior re­cently granted fi­nal ap­proval to amend­ments to the state’s gam­bling agree­ments with the tribes, re­mov­ing the last gov­ern­men­tal ob­sta­cle to con­struc­ti0n of a gam­bling fa­cil­ity half way be­tween Hart­ford and Spring­field, just off I-91.

But­ler said the part­ner­ship is now seek­ing fi­nanc­ing to be­gin con­struc­tion. The project has been on hold since Septem­ber 2017, when In­te­rior ini­tially re­fused to act on the amend­ments to the Con­necti­cut gam­bling agree­ments. That was the same time when MGM fur­ther com­pli­cated things, propos­ing a Bridge­port casino — if the state opened up to com­pe­ti­tion.

“We’re ac­tu­ally in that process of get­ting fi­nanc­ing,” But­ler said. “We ba­si­cally had to dust ev­ery­thing off. We’ve been on hold for a year and a half, I mean re-en­gag­ing with con­struc­tion teams and de­sign doc­u­ments and ev­ery­thing. So, we’re in that process now.”

Chris­tian Abra­ham / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia file photo

Fan Dual Sports­book at the Mead­ow­lands in East Ruther­ford, N.J., in March. Con­necti­cut is con­sid­er­ing le­gal­iz­ing sports bet­ting, lean­ing to­ward a New Jersey model where peo­ple can bet in per­son at casi­nos and race­tracks, as well as on­line.

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