BOSTON – The chairman on Connecticut’s Mashantucket Pequot tribe is optimistic a deal can be reached approving sports betting in the state during the final few weeks of the legislative session.
Headlines this week said Connecticut’s sports betting bill would be delayed until 2020, but the tribe’s chairman, Rodney Butler, who appeared at ICE North America on Wednesday to participate in a panel discussion on sports betting in Indian country, sounded a positive note. His tribe and the Mohegan Tribe believe sports betting at their casinos and online are part of the exclusivity clause under their state gaming compacts.
“I think we’re closer than the headlines would indicate,” said Butler. “We’re still actively talking and only a few weeks left in the session and all have to work hard and stay focused on it, but I think we are all aligned. Connecticut should be competitive and that includes having sports betting and online gaming. It’s now about working out the details between now and the end of the session. If not, they can have a special session.”
Butler said they’re closer because the tribe knows the framework. Also, there’s are just three parties involved – the Pequot and Mohegan tribes and the state.
“The legislation is out there, and there’s already a placeholder bill and just needs to be flushed out a little bit more,” Butler said. “If everyone is committed to it, we should be able to get it done. The fact there’s not 20 people negotiating makes it a lot easier. We all know that we want to do sports betting and should have it. We have examples all around us in Rhode Island and more so in New Jersey from tax rate and regulatory structure. We would like to see retail at both Mohegan and (our) Foxwoods, and maybe there’s an option for a couple of retail options around the state and Foxwoods and Mohegan online sports betting.”
Butler said the tribes wouldn’t support allowing other entities to having sports betting. Both tribes have a license to build a casino in East Windsor on non-tribal land.
“I can see that as being one of the sticking points for the state but at the end of the day sports betting is what we are all after,” Butler said. “If you have two partners that have been exceptional partners for more than 27 years and contributed $8 billion back to the state, we have a proven track record that we can handle sports betting as well.”
Butler said he won’t predict how many of the 250-plus gaming tribes across the country will have sports betting beyond the one in Mississippi and two in New Mexico currently in place. He emphasized more are coming and it’s just a matter of time.
With sports betting approved in Iowa, tribes will start to move and there’s strong interest in Michigan and Wisconsin that are making that push as well, Butler said.
Butler likes the concept of tribes working together to pool resources to lessen their risk for sports betting. It would only be allowed within a state for now because of concerns about violating the federal Wire Act, he said.
Victor Rocha, owner of Pechanga.net and president of Victor Strategies, who moderated the discussion, said “it would be smart” for tribes in California to place a measure on the November 2020 ballot to allow sports betting. The referendum would coincide with the presidential election, when voter turnout will be high.
“You can see the progress,” Rocha said about the interest among tribes to add sports betting. “We have gone a lot further than we were even (in April), and a lot of it has to do with states moving so quickly since then. The tribes see the writing on the wall.”