Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont has rejected a request to give the state’s two tribal casinos, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, temporary approval to launch online gaming during the shutdown enforced as a result of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
The measure was requested by the chief elected officials and chief executive officers of the 22 municipal members of the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments (SCCOG).
The SCCOG requested Governor Lamont issue an Executive Order to allow the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation-owned Foxwoods and Mohegan Tribe’s Mohegan Sun to launch igaming during the shut-down, which began on 17 March.
“It is clear that we are in uncharted territory with this pandemic that our state and our nation are facing,” SCCOG chair Mark Nickerson wrote.
“Many millions of people and businesses are suffering and we do not know when this health crisis will end. In our region, two of our largest employers, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun Casinos, have shut down to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. They have also donated their food and facilities to help the greater good.
Nickerson described Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun as strong community partners, which had their operations altered “in an unprecedented way” by the public health emergency.
“This revenue source will help them to immediately offset the losses they are facing,” he said. “It will help get people back to work more quickly when the pandemic ends. It will help assure that the many municipalities that depend on revenue from the Pequot Fund are able to continue to receive this much needed funding.”
The SCCOG, Nickerson noted, supported legislation introduced by Democrat Senator Cathy Osten in January to allow tribes to offer igaming, as set out in An Act Concerning Jobs In and Revenue from the Gaming Industry.
This bill mirrored a proposal introduced by Osten in July 2019. The act aims to allow each operator to offer sports betting and igaming, open a new casino in Bridgeport as well as three satellite venues, and strike a joint venture for a new venue in East Windsor.
The likes of Sportech, which operates sports bars in Connecticut and MGM Resorts, which wants to compete to operate the Bridgeport facility, are both opposed to the proposal. A range of other proposals have also been filed in the current legislative session.
Lamont, however, rejected the SCCOG’s request. While he said he shared the council’s appreciation and concerns for the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot Tribes, measures had already been taken to help each mitigate the pandemic.
He pointed out that the state had agreed to defer the tribes’ monthly slot contributions and regulatory assessment fees, as well as reducing the sum owed for regulatory oversight due to the casino closures.
Furthermore, Lamont added, his staff had been closely communicating with both tribes to ensure they can maximize their federal stimulus funding to cover revenue losses.
“While I very much share the concerns, you express about the financial distress the pandemic is causing our tribal partners, I must decline your specific request,” he said. “Authorizing online gaming and enabling consumers to more easily access gambling is a significant policy decision that has not yet been embraced or acted upon by our legislature.
“Doing so at a time when so many Connecticut residents are in financial distress would be a particularly significant policy decision to make without legislative approval.”
“Moreover, the state has not, and is not currently in a position to, establish and enforce the sort of regulatory and financial framework that is necessary to implement online gambling.”
Lamont added that to preserve existing legal and financial arrangements with the tribes, each of their compacts with the state would need to be amended. This, he said, could be achieved through the legislative proposals put forward by Osten and supported by the SCCOG could achieve.
“Once compact amendments were entered, they would need to be submitted for approval to both the legislature and the US Secretary of the Interior,” he explained. “That process is simply not feasible or realistic during this crisis and while the legislature remains in recess.”