Connecticut Governor Says No to Online Tribal Gaming Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

The Governor of Connecticut, Ned Lamont, has dismissed a request by tribal operators on Friday, April 3, asking the state enable online gambling without revising gambling compacts and passing proper legislation.

CT Governor Turns Down to Enable Tribal Gambling in Time of Pandemic

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont made a statement on Friday, April 3, tersely turning down a request from the state’s tribal gaming operators, Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun, to open online gambling as a way to cushion the blow brought on by the nation-wide casino closure due to COVID-19.

Caught in addressing the spiralling economic and social crisis, Gov. Lamont bluntly said “I must decline your specific request.” The tribes and governor had clashed before.

In March, Gov. Lamont approved a bill that would allow multiple operators to begin offering sports betting in the state despite opposition from Mohegan Tribe and Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation. As per that previous agreement, the tribes would only have rights to sports betting on their reservations, a decision loudly opposed by them.

The suggestion to transfer operations online was submitted by Mark Nickerson, the head of regional government in eastern Connecticut. The region is particularly dependent on tribal operators and their economic activity, and in the case of eastern Connecticut, Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes are the largest employers.

In his letter dated April 1, Nickerson argued that Connecticut ought to think not only about the present, but also focus on the future. His letter was signed by 22 local officials in the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments and then passed on to the government’s office.

Connecticut Tribes Ask for Online Gambling

In their pitch to the governor, tribal operators insisted on the introduction of digital betting and gambling, i.e. playing from laptop, smartphones, iPads and other devices that support online casinos.

The suggestion, however, ignored the need for a broader consensus on existing legislation and offers emergency gambling legislation amid the pandemic. The governor declined the suggestion, saying:

“That process is simply not feasible or realistic during this crisis and while the legislature remains in recess.”

Ned Lamont, Governor of Connecticut

He continued by explaining that any decision to enable consumers to access and use gambling products online was a “significant policy decision,” and therefore not something that could be decided without the necessary legislative approval.

On Tuesday, March 31, however, prior to the developments of Friday, the governor did approve another bill that would allow the state to offer sports betting under terms that are presently opposed by the tribes. Furthermore, the Tuesday’s bill endorsement, Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort’s hopes to open a casino in Bridgeport were stopped in their tracks, and the idea of virtual casino games on smartphones and computers dismissed.

Is the Governor’s Approval Necessary?

Looking for a way around the restriction, the chairman of Mashantucket Pequots, Rodney Butler rhetorically suggested that the tribes might not need all the approvals the governor thinks has to be granted to conduct online gambling.

Butler reiterated the tribe’s concern about employees’ well-being and he further argued that more clarity on how tribes would be aided by the government’s COVID-19 relief legislation is necessary. “There’s no clarity right now,” Butler cautioned.

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