The state of Connecticut has recently passed an online gambling bill, becoming the seventh US state to regulate online poker, among other forms of gambling. While there are still a few legal wrinkles that need to be ironed out, it seems clear that CT residents will soon have access to all three major online gambling verticals: casino, sports betting, and online poker.
Before the bill could be passed, the governor had to reach an agreement with two tribes that have a monopoly on casino gaming in the state: Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan. The tribes managed to get the best out of this deal, as they will maintain sole rights to offer online poker and casino gambling.
The only concession came in the sports betting vertical, where the Connecticut Lottery Corporation will also be allowed to launch a betting platform.
So, CT poker players will get to enjoy the maximum of two online sites, if both tribes find suitable partners and decide online poker is a viable option. The population of Connecticut is just 3.5 million, so it is not a big market.
However, with the DOJ passing on the opportunity to appeal the last court decision in the Wire Act case, which dismissed attempts to broaden the 1960s statute to include online gambling beyond sports betting, the path is clear set for new interstate online deals. That means the size of any individual market should no longer be as important since operators will seek to combine player pools across state borders.
With all this information in mind, the big question is, what companies are most likely to try and get their foot in the door and corner the newly regulated CT poker market?
PokerStars in Connecticut
The PokerStars USA network has grown significantly since 2016, when the company has first gone live in New Jersey. With the presence in Michigan and Pennsylvania, and looking into their options in Nevada as well, PokerStars seems to be one of the likeliest candidates to try to receive an operational license in Connecticut.
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This seems even likelier in the light of recent developments and legal obstacles for interstate compacts finally being removed. Since there is nothing in the CT online gambling law preventing such compacts, the state will probably seek to enter agreements with other regulated states.
If PokerStars were to enter CT, the Mohegan Tribe is their natural partner in the state. The tribe already operates Resorts Casino in New Jersey, which acts as bricks-and-mortar base of operations for PokerStars NJ.
In addition to online poker, PokerStars also features online casino and sports betting platforms, so they could provide the full slate of products for the online branch of Mohegan Tribe.
However, the Mohegan already has certain deals in place with Kindred Group/Unibet as well, and the company will likely be interested to cover at least the online betting aspect. So the PokerStars partnership is not guaranteed.
888 Could Bolster Own Brand in Connecticut
One company that might be interested in launching an online poker room in CT is 888, although it is hard to say with certainty what their plans entail.
In a recent interview for pokerfuse, Yaniv Sherman, Senior VP of 888 Holdings, hinted at the possibility of bolstering the 888poker brand in the US, independently of its long-standing online partner, the World Series of Poker.
At the moment, 888 has very strong ties with Caesars and the WSOP and the plan for the immediate future seems to be that they will act as a joined force in markets such as Michigan and Pennsylvania. But Sherman indicated that the end goal is to have a presence in all regulated states and eventually build a strong network of sites.
From that point of view, Connecticut could be an interesting option for 888. If the company wanted to build an independent brand in the US, they could start with a fresh, newly regulated market.
WSOP Could Also Show Interest
This will not be the first time 888 has gone it alone into a new market. We have already seen the company take this approach in Delaware, where it won the contract to provide the three racinos in the state with online poker.
It needs to be said, though, that these developments will depend on what plans WSOP USA might have for Connecticut.
By the time CT comes online, WSOP will be live in four states: the existing New Jersey and Nevada, plus Michigan and Pennsylvania. It is safe to assume that all four will be connected into a single player pool, and may well represent the larger US online poker network. The operator may well look to small states like Connecticut to further expand its footprint.
If that is the case, it is hard to imagine that 888 would go against its long-time strategic partner during the tender process—especially given the fact the company has made it clear that they are still giving the WSOP partnership an advantage over any solo plans.
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Will BetMGM / partypoker Network US Fight for a Spot in CT?
The partypoker US Network is another serious candidate to compete for a CT license now that interstate deals are a real possibility. The network has put a lot of emphasis on the BetMGM USA brand in particular, so they might want to continue in the same vein if they see Connecticut as a viable market.
Entain and MGM Resorts (the two companies behind the BetMGM joint venture and the partypoker US Network) do not have any presence in the state at the moment, nor any kind of cooperation with the tribes. This is where PokerStars has the upper hand, at least as far as the Mohegan Tribe is concerned.
The Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, which operates Foxwoods, might be on the lookout for a suitable partner, though. They have a partnership in place with DraftKings, but the company has never been interested in running online poker. So, Foxwoods will likely need a different partner for this side of the business.
It is still early to say if they will find that partner in BetMGM, WSOP/888, or a different company, and if that partnership is even a priority. Even with the restrictions on interstate poker finally being lifted, it will still take some time for new compacts to be created, so it is likely online poker will not be very high on the priority list for the time being.