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Connecticut Lawmakers Greenlight Sports Betting, Historic Tribal Partnership

Thomas Schlosser
Connecticut state senators have passed expanded gaming legislation, including sports betting, on to the governor. The project awaits federal approval, and while it waits, one stakeholder remarks on the historic agreement.

May 26, 1637: The Pequot village at Mistick Fort burns. It’s the latest salvo in a war that has the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribal nations on opposite sides.

Nowadays, there’s a “first light ceremony” to commemorate the attack on the fort, according to Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation.

“There was no better feeling than to wake this morning and celebrate the strength of my ancestors and seeing the passing of the Senate bill,” Butler said.

Exactly 384 years after the attack on the Mistick Fort, the two tribes have aligned under historic gaming legislation.

State lawmakers have passed expanded gaming legislation, clearing the way for the governor to sign sports betting into law.

“It was almost the fitting ‘storybook end,’” Butler said.

Ray Pineault, interim CEO of Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment, is thankful state government didn’t move to legalize sports wagering without tribal support.

“With the two tribes working together along with the legislature,” Pineault said, “there was a government-to-government relation that recognized the sovereignty of each of the entities and did something cooperatively to move gaming forward in Connecticut.”

The tribes haven’t totally been together on this: The Mohegans made their deal with the state first, while the Mashantuckets held out for a better iGaming revenue share that ended up benefiting both tribes.

Before the law takes effect, the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs first will have 45 days to approve the amended compacts between the tribes and the state of Connecticut. Butler said that clock doesn’t start until those amended compacts are formally submitted. So, tack on a few more weeks.

“That’s not the only thing that has to happen, though,” Butler said. “There’s a parallel path where the Department of Consumer Protection has to develop regulatory procedures for internet gaming, sports betting, and the like, and then, license any of our vendors.”

Stakeholders hope state residents can make bets by Sept. 9 -- that’s the start of Week 1 of the NFL season.

One of them, the Connecticut Lottery Corporation, will select a vendor to help it deliver sports betting at 15 retail locations. The Mashantucket Pequots are going with DraftKings, while the Mohegan Tribe has yet to announce its partner.

Sportech, Connecticut’s off-track betting operator, didn’t get a license to operate sports betting and has also threatened a lawsuit.

“Sportech and its legal experts are confident that, if it is forced to challenge the bill to protect its investments in the State, courts will hold that this bill violates the Equal Protections Clauses of the United States and Connecticut Constitutions, and the Emoluments Clause of the State Constitution,” read a written statement from a Sportech spokesperson.

There’s still real estate for Sportech in the expanded gaming landscape. As part of the agreement, a party outside the tribes and the lottery (like Sportech) could come in as a sublicensee of the CLC.

Sportech says negotiations with the state continue.

Frankie Graziano is the host of The Wheelhouse, focusing on how local and national politics impact the people of Connecticut.

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