Connecticut’s gaming future could have taken shape on Tuesday when the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, a key player in that future, announced its involvement in the reopening of a legendary Puerto Rico casino.
Rodney Butler, the chairman of Mashantucket, had to be in two places at the same time.
After attending a press conference in Puerto Rico, Butler attended Zoom to participate in an informational forum run by the State Legislature’s Public Safety Committee that is working on a gaming bill that will regulate online gaming, sports betting, and online sales of legalizes lottery tickets.
A compromise arises where each of the state’s four licensed gaming providers could expand their portfolio.
The Mashantuckets and Mohegan Tribe, the respective owners of Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun, appear ready to insist that only they can offer online games and any form of sports betting in the state. They could be allowed to offer online sports betting, while other state operators offer sports betting in retail or brick-and-mortar stores.
“Let’s do no harm. Whatever we do, we should do it from government to government, ”Mohegan’s chief of staff Chuck Bunnell said during the Zoom hearing. “We are ready to be sensible and to talk. Partners do that. “
Tribal officials have met with Governor Ned Lamont to reach an agreement on expanding the Games. The tribes claim that sports betting is a casino game and, as such, is covered by their exclusivity agreements with the state. Speaking to the governor, “We were pretty sure no one should come into this market,” said Bunnell.
In one scenario, Sportech Venues, which operate a dozen locations in bars and restaurants across the state and an online betting service, might be eligible to offer sports betting at their locations but not online.
“I wasn’t convinced they shouldn’t have an opportunity for sports betting,” Rep. Kurt Vail, R-Stafford, said of Sportech, replying to Bunnell. “Maybe you could work something out together.”
Ted Taylor, the president of Sportech Venues, turned down the idea, saying that online sports betting makes up about 80% of the sports betting market, which is dominated by younger men. He said the last thing he would like is for customers at Sportech locations to see sport on multiple screens and place bets on “someone else’s app”.
In a post-hearing Zoom interview, Butler questioned Taylor’s view, saying sports betting could be a boon for brick and mortar businesses. He said sports betting centers could be developed in places like the XL Center in Hartford and one location in Bridgeport, as suggested by Senator Dennis Bradley, D-Bridgeport, the co-chair of the public safety committee. The tribes might be ready to work together in such centers, Butler said.
Greg Smith, president of Connecticut Lottery Corp., said lottery sales rose after an initial slump during the pandemic and that approval of online ticket sales would further boost sales. He said online sales would ensure the lottery remains relevant to young people who are increasingly using mobile devices. Rob Simmelkjaer, chairman of the lottery company’s board of directors, pitched sports betting and called the quasi-public agency the ideal operator, as it contributes to the state any net revenue it generates.
The lottery sells its products in around 3,000 retail locations nationwide, not all of which would be suitable as sports betting websites.
The press conference in Puerto Rico was attended by the Governor of Puerto Rico, Pedro Pierluisi, and Andro Nodarse-León, founder and CEO of LionGrove, the hospitality investment firm that owns the Fairmont El San Juan Hotel. The Mashantuckets and LionGrove announced that they will reopen the El San Juan Casino at the hotel, renaming it Foxwoods El San Juan Casino.
The casino has been closed since 2016. The reopening, with an investment of $ 12.5 million, will come after $ 137.5 million in renovations before and after Hurricane Maria in 2017. The casino renovations and reopening are expected to generate $ 22 million in economic impact and 360 new jobs, including more than 150 in the casino.
In its prime in the 1960s, the Tropicoro nightclub in El San Juan, which the partners will also be reopening, drew stars such as Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Sammy Davis Jr.
Butler called the Mashantuckets’ involvement in the deal “a match made in heaven”. He said 50% to 60% of the Caribbean hospitality market comes from the northeastern US.