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Connecticut Online POKER, Casino, Sports Bill Signed: HB 6451

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Connecticut became the seventh state to legalize licensed online poker with the signature of Governor Ned Lamont (D) on H.B. 6451 on Thursday, May 27, 2021. In addition to online poker sites, internet casino games, online sports betting, daily fantasy sports, interactive keno, and online lottery sales will be permitted within the borders of The Constitution State.

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Information About the Bill

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The legislation that just became law allows the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes to accept sports wagers at their facilities on tribal lands and also over the internet. In addition, they will be allowed to offer their virtual patrons daily fantasy sports and casino games online. The Mohegan tribe runs the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville while the Mashantucket Pequot operates Foxwoods Casino in Ledyard.

In the section of the bill defining the terms used, we find the following:

(21) "Online casino gaming" means (A) slots, blackjack, craps, roulette, baccarat, poker and video poker, bingo, live dealer and other peer-to-peer games and any variations of such games, and (B) any games authorized by the department, conducted over the Internet, including through an Internet web site or a mobile device, through an electronic wagering platform that does not require a bettor to be physically present at a facility;

As we can see, poker is explicitly included in the list of games covered by this bill.

The terms of the compacts allowing for this expansion of real money gaming have already been worked out between the tribes involved and the governor's office. However, all of these details require the approval of the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs before actual wagering can take place.

Lottery in for a Piece of the Action

The new gambling bill also grants the ability to hold new types of games to the state lottery. The activities authorized to the Connecticut Lottery Corporation include online sports betting, terrestrial sports betting at up to 15 retail locations, online lottery games, and online keno.

Taxation and Payments

Of course, the State of Connecticut isn't just moving forward with licensed iGaming for lack of anything better to do. The authorities expect to collect their share of the proceeds.

Under the terms of H.B. 6451, sports betting gross gaming revenue will be taxed at a 13.75% rate. Online gaming revenue will face an 18% levy for the first five years after which the operators will have to fork over 20%.

Moreover, both tribes have agreed to contribute $500,000 each per annum toward a fund to tackle problem gaming while the Lottery will hand over $1 million per year.

Shot in the Arm for Lagging State Revenues

With the expansion of gaming across the United States, the two CT tribal casinos have faced stiff competition particularly from Massachusetts, which has opened three casino venues since 2015. Statistics from the Connecticut State Department of Consumer Protection show that the casinos' contribution to the General Fund fell from a peak of $430 million in 2007 to just $255 million in 2019. While the final numbers haven't yet been released for 2020, we can expect that the decline continued particularly in light of the effects of the COVID restrictions and closures that were enacted in that year.

Thus, there are high hopes in Hartford that sports betting and internet gaming can help reverse this trend. Notably, Massachusetts currently has neither form of wagering, so not only might Connecticut recapture some of its residents' gambling spend that's currently going elsewhere, but it might also entice bettors in neighboring states to check out the CT online gaming scene.

Legislative History

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Bill 6451 was introduced to the House in February 2021 as a governor's bill. This skeleton document was a mere three pages long because it was intended as a placeholder while the governor conducted negotiations with the two gaming tribes within Connecticut.

Ned LamontGovernor Ned Lamont Was Instrumental in Getting the Online Gaming Bill Passed

The governor reached an agreement with the Mohegan Tribe on March 4 and with the Mashantucket Pequot on March 18. The bill was then replaced with one containing all the details that had been worked out, and it proceeded through the legislative process over the next few months.

On May 20, HB 6451 received a favorable vote in the House of 122-21. It then went over to the Senate where it was approved on May 25 with a vote of 28-6. The bill was sent to Governor Lamont's desk that same day, and he signed it into law a couple of days later.

Reaction

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The reaction of prominent individuals and organizations involved in Connecticut gambling was largely positive. The voting records in both chambers of the legislature demonstrate that there was broad-based support for this change in CT law.

The head cheerleader was perhaps none other than Governor Lamont himself. After all, it was he who introduced the bill in the first place and conducted the negotiations with tribal leaders that were a necessary prelude to any gambling expansion in the state. In a press release following his signing of H.B. 6451, Lamont said:

By signing this bill into law, Connecticut is now on the cusp of providing a modern, technologically advanced gaming experience that will be competitive with our neighboring states and positions us for success into the future.

Lamont later tweeted about signing the bill, claiming that it was a “sure bet”:

Tweet From Governor Lamont About CT iGaming

James Gessner Jr., the tribal council chairman for the Mohegan Indians, echoed the governor's statement, saying, “The advantages of these changes will be felt statewide, to the benefit of Connecticut residents and our tribal members.” Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Chairman Rodney Butler opined, “This is an historic moment in which our nation celebrates with Governor Lamont and the State of Connecticut.”

The Connecticut Lottery too was pleased with the situation. In a separate press release, its chairman, Rob Simmelkjaer, stated:

Today is a great day for the state of Connecticut. We are very pleased that the state legislature has approved this modernization of Connecticut's gaming landscape. I congratulate and thank Governor Lamont and his team for their leadership and vision to reach this historic agreement and see it pass the Connecticut General Assembly.

One of the few dissenting voices was that of State Senator Tony Hwang (R). He felt that the new forms of betting that will appear will lead to an upsurge in problem gambling.

What's Next for Connecticut?

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As we have seen in other states that have regulated real money internet gaming, there will probably be an extended period of time after the signing of the bill before the first online operators emerge.

As mentioned earlier, the entire deal is subject to the approval of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Even after this hurdle is cleared, we still have to wait for the final regulations to be enacted, for the tribes and the Lottery to select their technology and/or branding partners, and for the needed technological systems to be developed, installed, and tested.

It will probably take around a year before any sites are really to accept action from the public, and it could take much longer. If the pattern displayed in other states holds true for Connecticut as well, then we will likely see sportsbooks open first, followed by online casinos and finally poker rooms.

Poker Prospects

As far as the outlook for specifically online poker in Connecticut is concerned, it's a mixed bag. In most states, the focus is first on what are perceived as big-money products, like sports betting and casino games. Only after these are established is there typically any interest in adding peer-to-peer card games to the roster.

Connecticut, with its 3.6 million population, has nowhere near the number of residents as some of the other licensed online poker states, like New Jersey (9.3 million), Pennsylvania (13 million), and Michigan (10 million). The Constitution State does have more people than Nevada (3.1 million) and West Virginia (1.8 million).

However, Connecticut lacks the large number of gamble-happy tourists that pass through Las Vegas each year, and the comparison to West Virginia is not exactly favorable either because this latter state has yet to host any regulated internet poker sites despite The Mountain State passing online gaming legislation in March 2019.

Thus, Connecticut may not have the player base to support ring-fenced interactive poker.

Interstate Compacts to the Rescue?

The recent Wire Act court decision, which effectively clarified that interstate player traffic sharing agreements are legal, does leave open the prospect of Connecticut joining such a framework to let its residents play against those in other states and vice versa.

There is already an existing multi-state compact between Delaware, New Jersey, and Nevada, which lets their players comingle at the virtual poker tables. Now that the courts have delivered a favorable ruling regarding such arrangements, there are hopes that Connecticut may join in the existing compact or else participate in any new one that might be drafted.

This would mean that the small CT population would no longer be a barrier to a profitable regulated online poker ecosystem because Connecticut players would have access to a shared pool of games populated by the inhabitants of several states.

Existing CT Tribal Online Gaming Endeavors

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Surprising as it may seem, the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes already have existing online gaming websites. Neither of them transacts in Connecticut for actual money wagers yet, but their experience in managing these sites may help the tribes deploy successful real money sites more rapidly than if they were totally new to this sphere.

The Mashantucket Pequot boast of their Foxwoods Social Casino developed by BlueBat Games. It has hundreds of slots that users can play for fun while earning comps to use at the brick-and-mortar Foxwoods casino.

The Mohegan Tribe's Mohegan Sun Beyond social casino, which was developed in-house, operates along similar lines, but in addition, the Mohegan Sun name already has a presence in the New Jersey regulated gaming ecosystem with an online casino run in partnership with Resorts Casino Hotel and NYX gaming. Furthermore, Mohegan Sun Pocono runs a licensed online casino and sportsbook in conjunction with Unibet in Pennsylvania.

MoheganSun.com WebsiteThe Website of the Mohegan Sun NJ-Licensed Internet Casino

Lest we get too excited about these entities leveraging their combined know-how to deliver regulated poker to the Connecticut masses, we must note that none of these internet gambling parlors managed by the CT tribes includes peer-to-peer poker. It's widely acknowledged that multiplayer card games present certain technical challenges that aren't present when programming player-versus-house games like blackjack or roulette. Thus, the debut of state-licensed online poker will likely come last after these organizations have already perfected their casino and sports offerings.

Offshore Poker Alive and Well

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While we wait for the tribes, the federal government, and the other involved parties to get their act together and make state-regulated internet poker in Connecticut a reality, you have another option available to you. International firms happily welcome Connecticuters through their doors for games of online poker.

To learn more about the internet poker economy in Connecticut and the best sites to play at, check out our overview of online poker in Connecticut. If you live elsewhere in the country, then our guide to USA internet poker is bound to be informative and useful.