Connecticut on the Verge of Legalizing Online Poker, Casino Games and Sports Betting Connecticut on the Verge of Legalizing Online Poker, Casino Games and Sports Betting

The state of Connecticut is in position to become the seventh state to legalize online poker in the US and the sixth to authorize online casino games after the state House of Representatives passed a bill to allow the games last week by a 122-21 margin.

House Bill 6451 was subsequently referred to the State Senate, and on Friday it was officially added as a Senate agenda item.

In addition to online poker and online casino games, the bill would also authorize:

  • In-person and online sports betting
  • Fantasy contests
  • In-person and online keno
  • Online lottery draw games

Should the proposed legislation pass through the Senate, Governor Ned Lamont has indicated that he would sign the bill into law. However, because the bill proposes changes to the compact between the state and the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes, approval by the US Department of Interior (DOI) secretary in accordance with the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) is also required.

However, the tribes would not be the only ones to benefit from the proposed expansion in gambling. HB 6451 would also authorize the Connecticut Lottery Corporation (CLC) to offer select online games.

If passed, the bill would take effect on July 1, 2021.

Online Poker in Connecticut Could be Limited

In its current form, HB 6451 would only allow online casino gaming (which includes online poker) to be offered by the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes and not the CLC.

The bill would also restrict the tribes from offering of online casino games and online poker outside of their tribal lands to one skin per tribe, meaning there would only be the potential for two online poker sites in the state.

Currently, there are three premier online poker operators in the US: PokerStars USA, operating in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Michigan; BetMGM USA, which offers online poker in the same states as PokerStars under a mixture of brands that include BetMGM Poker, Borgata Poker; and partypoker US; and 888poker/WSOP USA, which currently offers the only inter-state online poker in the US with brands such as in Nevada and New Jersey, 888poker in New Jersey and three racino brands offered in Delaware.

The inability to offer online poker to the 3.6 million residents of the Constitution State would not pose a significant threat to the success of any of the big three, but it is also possible that only one or even none of the exiting US online poker operators may be able to launch in Connecticut.

The Mashantucket Pequot tribe already has a deal in place in Connecticut with DraftKings, who is rumored to be interested in introducing a new online poker network to the US. Its current market access and the looming conclusion to the Wire Act case next month, which is expected to spur additional interstate online poker interest, could be enough to bring the online sports betting and Daily Fantasy Sports giant off the online poker sidelines.

The Mohegan tribe already has an agreement in place with global online gaming provider Kindred in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and though there have been no rumblings, Kindred operates online poker under the Unibet brand in other parts of the world. Though it is a long shot, the Unibet Poker software is one of the most modern and user-friendly platforms globally, and its high-quality mobile offering could be competitive in US markets once the Wire Act appeal period expires in June.

Currently, there is also no provision in the Connecticut bill that explicitly allows for interstate online poker networks (also known as shared liquidity), but there is no language that would prohibit online poker operators from allowing players in Connecticut from competing at the same tables as players in other states where online poker is legal and regulated.

Presumably, state lawmakers would pass another law explicitly allowing Connecticut to enter agreements with other states such as the exiting Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement (MSIGA), or provisions could be included to allowed shared liquidity in the revisions to the tribal compacts with the state.