02/03/2012 : CONNECTICUT COMMITTEE SAYS NO PLANS FOR INTERNET GAMBLING PROPOSALS
But the tribes are getting restless
With the dust still swirling from heated exchanges between the governor's office and the minority leader in the state Senate. Thursday's meeting of the Connecticut Public Safety and Security Committee introduced a calmer note to the debate, with co-chair Representative Steve Dargan advising that as far as the committee is concerned there are no immediate plans to introduce online gambling legalization measures.
Dargan said that the committee does not intend to file an internet gaming bill in the 2012 legislative session. The public safety committee traditionally has jurisdiction over gaming matters, however it's possible that another committee could raise the issue, local press reports indicated.
Dargan stressed that the issues surrounding online gambling are very complex and have broad repercussions. The federal government is also expected to play a role: the U.S. Senate will hold a hearing on the Department of Justice recent change of policy on internet gambling next week, he reminded journalists.
"We are in the infancy stage of trying to understand this issue,” said Dargan, revealing that he had spoken to the governor's staff and had been assured that that office does not intend to submit any bill legalising online gaming in this legislative session.
Governor Malloy later confirmed that at a press conference, saying the issue was still at the discussion stage.
"I think it's highly appropriate that a discussion be had about that subject," the governor noted, adding that he was not a proponent of internet gambling but that the Department of Justice's about turn on its interpretation of what constitutes online gambling in terms of the Wire Act had been a surprise.
Governor Malloy said he will be keeping a close watch on what neighbouring states do regarding internet gambling as discussions continue, and emphasised the major contribution land gambling companies had made to the state in terms of tax revenues and employment.
Arch opponent of online gambling, Senate minority leader John McKinney applauded the news.
"I don't believe that putting a 24/7 electronic casino in every house in Connecticut so the government can profit from it is the way to solve our budget crisis," he said. "I am pleased that the Public Safety Committee and the Malloy administration will not be submitting legalization to legalize online gambling this year."
The Public Safety and Security Committee discussions Thursday included evidence from several executives representing the interests of Connecticut land casinos, such as Chuck Bunnell of Mohegan Sun and Anshu Z. Kalhan and Frank Pracukowski of the Foxwoods Development Company.
The representatives of the two tribes warned legislators that online gambling is already here, with numerous offshore sites offering the opportunity to wager on games via the internet. Due to the legal situation, the state was not regulating that activity and receives no benefit from online gambling, they added.
Interestingly, the executives observed that it is far easier to police under-aged and problem gamblers online than it is in bricks-and-mortar casinos. Online gaming sites have sophisticated screening software designed to prevent abuses, they pointed out.
"The profits and jobs [from internet gambling] are all currently going off-shore with no benefit to the state of Connecticut," Kalhan stated. He revealed that the Mashantuckets have researched the issue and determined there are 855 websites that will take online bets from Connecticut players, and that these sites rarely enforce age verification.
Mohegan chief of staff Charles Bunnell added: "Online gaming is not a new venture here in Connecticut. Online gaming is available today. It's just illegal and unregulated. We are ready to enter this market, whether on an intra-state basis or on an inter-state basis, and ensure that if legal, it is implemented with the same professionalism, public safety awareness and recognition of the regulatory concerns that have been the foundation of the Mohegan Sun operation since its opening,"
Both the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes said that if the state ultimately decides to pass legalization legalising online gambling, their two successful casinos in south eastern Connecticut could run a regulated system that would provide protection for the gamblers and ensure that underage players do not take part.
However, they warned that if the state allows another vendor to offer online gambling, the two tribes would consider that a violation of their current compact with the state, which gives them exclusive rights to offer casino gambling in return for providing the state 25 percent of their slot machine revenues.
This year, the two tribes made a total of $359 million in payments to the state.
The two tribes seemed to have different approaches to online gambling, with Bunnell declaring that the Mohegans would be interested in offering online poker or a limited number of games on the Internet. He said the tribe is concerned there could be some erosion of visitors if every game possible was offered on the Internet.
Zalhan said the Mashantuckets don't share that concern. He said online poker makes up only about 15 to 20 percent of online gambling. "Our tribe would appreciate the ability to take our full suite of products into the online world," he said. "I think the key is to have proper regulation and enforcement behind it."
Robert Clark, special counsel to the state attorney general commented: "The state should carefully consider the impact any legalization might have on its existing relationships with the tribes."