Opinion: Connecticut needs online sports betting in wake of economic pain caused by coronavirus shutdowns
Op-Ed by Tony Sheridan, Chamber President and CEO
Originally appeared in the Hartford Courant, January 31, 2021.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought significant, painful, and discouraging changes for so many people and businesses throughout Connecticut. Southeastern Connecticut was no exception. Many of our small service businesses were shuttered, and our state’s largest employers, our casinos, were forced to lay off thousands of employees. As we begin the 2021 legislative session, our legislators have the opportunity to stabilize and boost the economy by enacting legislation to legalize sports betting.
In his recent State of the State address, Gov. Ned Lamont suggested that the possibility of legalizing sports betting would be back on the table in 2021. The General Assembly is holding public hearings, and we should let our elected officials know that they should enact online sports gaming legislation — doing so in a way that protects the unique relationship Connecticut has with its partners in tribal government.
In his address, the governor stated, “Sports betting, internet gaming — they’re all happening all around us. Let’s not surrender these opportunities to out-of-state markets or, even worse, to underground markets.” We agree. The idea of online gaming has been a topic of discussion for years, and I can’t think of a better time for the General Assembly to move forward with enabling legislation now.
Our region saw a significant drop in its gaming revenue during the lockdown this spring. Not only did that mean state revenue fell, it also created hardship for local businesses that provide goods and services to these institutions. States like Pennsylvania saw a much smaller dip, as their online gaming rocketed and was able to make up the difference. Legislation that modernizes gaming will enable our two casinos to continue partnering with local businesses so that they can keep their doors open and employees can keep their jobs.
Our casinos operated by the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribal nations have been extraordinarily generous with their support of our many nonprofit and tourism venues in the region and state. Legalizing online gaming and sports betting would help our casinos continue this tradition of generous giving, all of which will help the region return to a degree of normalcy. Additionally, doing so will stabilize our nonprofits, grow our small businesses, and when it is safe, grow our tourism sector in eastern Connecticut. It is an opportunity our state simply cannot afford to pass on.
We must not let this moment pass without coming together to support these initiatives to open up markets for our gaming industry. Doing so will have an immediate impact on employees and our entire state. It is for these and many other reasons that we ask our legislators to enact online gaming as soon as possible.
Photo Courtesy of Foxwoods Resort Casino