Online Poker Included as Connecticut House Approves Tribal Compact Expansion

Online Poker Included as Connecticut House Approves Tribal Compact Expansion

Connecticut’s state House of Representatives has approved a measure authorizing online poker and most other forms of online gambling by a large majority, potentially fast-tracking the state to become the latest US state to approve fully regulated online poker. If approved, Connecticut’s two large tribal casinos, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, would be licensed to offer remote gambling services.

Mohegan Sun

A PokerStars-branded online poker site run in conjunction with Mohegan Sun is one of the possibilities created by Connecticut legislators’ fast-tracking of a widespread gambling expansion bill. (Image: mohegansun.com)

The Connecticut House on Thursday approved HB No. 6451 by a wide 122-21 margin, clearing the way for the measure to be voted on in the Connecticut State Senate. In addition to online poker, the bill authorizes all traditional forms of casino-based gambling in addition to legalizing sports betting, a big sell to many of the bill’s proponents.

According to the Connecticut Mirror, a rapid approval by the Connecticut Senate and a signing into law by CT Governor Ned Lamont are “sure bets”. The legislation is already slated to go into effect on July 1, 2021 and to be operational by the start of the NFL regular season at the end of August.

Connecticut Tribes, Governor Reached Deal in March

The legislation expanding the tribal compacts between Connecticut’s two federally recognized tribal nations, the Mashantucket Pequot (which operates Foxwoods, and the Mohegan Tribe came after the two nations reached a tentative deal with Gov. Lamont’s office in March. The two tribes lobbied for exclusivity over all remote gambling in the state, but they were unsuccessful on that point. The two large casino-resort venues, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, will be joined by up to 15 locations scattered throughout the state, operated by the Connecticut Lottery, that will also offer legal sports betting. The two tribes, however, are expected to have a duopoly for the foreseeable future regarding the online casino-style gambling.

HB 6451 as approved includes some other wrinkles. In exchange for the online-gambling approval, the tribes agreed to a moratorium on a planned jointly-owned casino near the Massachusetts border. That casino was approved by the state in 2017 but construction never began, and the current deal places that project on hold for another 10 years.

The jointly-owned casino was designed to compete against MGM’s large casino in Springfield, Massachusetts. MGM at one time also sought to build a casino in Connecticut but was rebuffed by the state’s legislature. The Mirror report on HB 6451’s House approval noted that several of the votes against the bill’s passage came from districts in the area where MGM’s competing casino project would have been located.

Online poker software partners remain undeclared

Neither Foxwoods nor Mohegan Sun has indicated whether any established online-poker brands will be brought in as a software partner when the bill becomes law. For Mohegan Sun, PokerStars US appears to have the inside track. The Mohegan Tribe and Mohegan Gaming and Entertainment own and operate Atlantic City, NJ’s Resorts Casino Hotel, which already offers PokerStars-branded online poker in that state.

Foxwoods’ situation is less clear. In 2014, the casino reached a deal with Ireland’s (now UK-based) GameAccount Network (GAN), to provide free-to-play online casino games to Foxwoods. GAN is owned and operated by the family of famed Irish poker pro Alan Smurfit, who died in October 2020.

Despite GAN’s previous in, prominent operators including 888 and PartyPoker US are likely to eye Foxwood as a marketing opportunity, one that could bring higher brand recognition into play for Foxwoods’ target customers. The possibility that Foxwoods could offer multiple sites powered by GAN and another operator appear closed off by language in the bill limiting each of the tribes to just a single online skin.

Written by
Haley Hintze
Contributing writer Haley Hintze is a 20-year veteran of the poker world, a Women in Poker Hall of Fame finalist, and two-time Global Poker Awards finalist.

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