Conn. lawmakers push expansion of video gambling

Sep 16, 2013 10:26 AM

In response to growing competition in the Northeast gaming market, some Connecticut lawmakers are calling for an expansion of video gambling, and that push is raising concerns about over-saturation in a state that hosts two casino resorts and is already preparing for the rollout next year of keno.

A task force is looking into bringing video gambling, such as video slot machines, to gaming halls that offer betting on simulcast races in Bridgeport, New Haven and Windsor Locks. That would require changes to state law, which currently forbids video gambling, and the compacts with Connecticut’s two tribal-owned casinos, the only places where it is allowed in the state.

Rep. Peggy Sayers, a Democrat representing Windsor Locks, said expanding local offerings could keep Connecticut residents from trying their luck across state lines. As proposals advance for a casino in western Massachusetts, she said, allowing video slots at the Bradley Teletheater near the airport could entice gamblers who might otherwise drive north to the Springfield area.

“If we were to expand it to the teletheater in Windsor Locks, that would offset some of those losses, or keep things more competitive,” she said. “These are jobs, local jobs.”

Sayers and other members of the task force are holding their first hearing in Hartford on Sept. 26. A proposal to authorize the expansion could be submitted for the next legislative session.

Currently, video gambling is only allowed at Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, two giant resort casinos that once dominated the region’s gaming market. They now face growing competition from casinos in the New York City area, the arrival of table games at Rhode Island’s Twin Rivers Casino, and a plan to allow three casinos in Massachusetts.

Chuck Bunnell, a spokesman for the Mohegan tribe that owns Mohegan Sun, said the tribe generally is not opposed to an expansion of video gambling. Those who want the resort experience, he said, still will come to the casino. But he said the tribe would oppose video gambling in Windsor Locks because it is so close to the line with Massachusetts, where the Mohegans are among the groups vying to build a casino in the western part of the state.

Consent is needed from the Mohegans and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, which owns Foxwoods, because the compacts that require the tribes to hand over 25 percent of their slot-machine revenue to the state also give them exclusive gaming privileges.

Changes to the compacts are being negotiated for the rollout of keno, a bingo-style lottery game that was authorized by the General Assembly in June as part of a deal to balance the state budget. As long as the compacts were being opened, Sayers proposed along with Sen. Andres Ayala of Bridgeport and Rep. Roland Lemar of New Haven that the state take a look at video gambling, too.

Mary Drexler, executive director of the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling, said it is worried about the potential to expose many more residents, including minors, to gambling.

“It’s almost like anywhere you go in the state, there will be an opportunity to gamble,” she said.

The office of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy did not respond to a request for comment on his position regarding video gambling.

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