State Could Allow Online Gambling And Lottery Ticket Sales

A U.S. Justice Department ruling issued last week clears the way for the introduction of online lottery ticket sales and online gaming in Connecticut and other states. (KAREN BLEIER/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

Online lottery ticket sales, even online poker, could become a reality if Connecticut lawmakers approve new forms of Internet gambling during next year's legislative session.

A U.S. Justice Department ruling issued late last week clears the way for the introduction of online lottery ticket sales and online gaming in Connecticut and other states.

"It appears that [online] interstate and intrastate gaming is going to be allowed," Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Wednesday in an interview with The Courant.

Malloy, who has been outspoken about the need to increase state gambling revenue, welcomed the ruling, which clarifies the federal government's stance on in-state online gambling and opens doors that would allow Connecticut to remain competitive in a region where gambling options are multiplying.

"Obviously, gaming is an important part of our economy," Malloy said. "… It appears that the only thing the Justice Department has ruled is off the table is sports betting, with the exception of horse betting. So with that one exclusion, everything is up for consideration by the states."

To remain competitive, he said, the state must consider a plan that includes online gaming or risk losing revenue to other states.

With competition looming across all borders, online gaming in Connecticut might be one way to plug some of the losses that the state's two casinos are expected to experience when Massachusetts' casinos open.

After a four-year struggle, Massachusetts lawmakers last month legalized casino gaming. The law allows for the establishment of a single slots parlor anywhere in the state, and three full-scale casinos, one each in the Boston area, and the southeastern and western parts of the state.

Although experts say it will be two or three years before the first Bay State casino opens, the drain of customers and dollars from Connecticut's tribal casinos could mean a 15 percent to 20 percent tumble in revenue for them.


The decline would cut the state's revenue, too, because each month, Foxwoods Resort casino in Mashantucket and Mohegan Sun casino in Uncasville pay 25 percent of their slot revenue to the state's general fund. This past year, those revenues averaged about $15 million per casino per month.

The Mashantucket Pequot tribe, which owns Foxwoods, and the Mohegan Tribe, which owns Mohegan Sun, have been following the online gaming question since it was brought before the Justice Department in late 2009 by officials of the Illinois and New York state lotteries. Specifically, lottery officials asked the Justice Department to determine whether Internet lottery ticket sales would violate the 1961 Wire Act, intended to prevent interstate sports betting.

"Because the … lottery proposals do not involve wagering on sporting events or contests, the Wire Act does not prohibit them," U.S. Assistant Attorney General Virginia Seitz wrote, summarizing the Justice Department's finding.

The decision allows Illinois and New York to proceed with plans to use the Internet to sell in-state lottery tickets. It also gives state lawmakers the ability to explore expanded gambling options in the upcoming legislative session.

"It clears the road for different types of gaming and participating in gaming" Malloy said.

Europe has embraced online gambling, said Chuck Bunnell, a spokesman for the Mohegan Tribe.

"This is something we've been watching. We've been anticipating that the United States would move into this arena," Bunnell said.

Bunnell said the Mohegans have had numerous meetings with the Malloy administration to discuss "how to remain competitive in an ever-expanding gaming environment."

"The Justice Department has made the path clearer for us," he said.