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)

In Connecticut, the two tribes have exclusive rights to offer casino games. So Internet gaming could have "something online that's run by one or both tribes," Bunnell said.

"We have been watching the Internet gambling issue closely and there is no question that the Justice Department opinion is a positive development in an area of business growth that, except in horse racing, is largely untapped," Foxwoods officials said Wednesday in a prepared statement. "We're studying the opinion to determine how it might impact our business strategies for both the near and longer term."

State lawmakers weighed in with a mix of reactions.

Rep. Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford and House vice chairman of the legislature's finance, revenue and bonding committee, said the concept of increased online gaming, and the additional revenue it could bring is "certainly intriguing."

But, he added, "we have to think through all the potential outcomes.''

Besides dealing with the problems of chronic gambling, Rojas said he would want to ensure that additional gaming options would not hurt the state's casinos, which contribute millions of dollars to state coffers and employ thousands of residents.

"Is it a revenue-neutral item if we get new revenue in one area and lose it in the casinos?" he asked.

Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, was cool toward the idea of online wagering.

"While I have never been a fan of the expansion of gambling, I am willing to listen to proposals,'' he said Wednesday in an email. "However, it is my I hope we could find other means to increase revenues or produce savings."

Opposition to online gambling cuts across party lines. State Sen. John McKinney, the chamber's Republican leader, said he, too, is "not a big fan" of expanded gambling in the state, especially online gambling.

"While people should be free to make their own choices, the evidence is that expanded gambling leads to additional societal problems,'' said McKinney, of Fairfield. "It is not a sound foundation for future economic growth.''

McKinney, who said he has yet to discuss the issue with his caucus, said gaming income is not a predictable source of revenue. "Gambling in general has not proven to be a panacea,'' he said. "You don't need to look much further than Atlantic City.''

"We shouldn't ignore the fact that there are people in our society who end up having gambling addictions ... and other problems as well,'' McKinney said.

Through the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, the state runs the Problem Gambling Services program, which is funded by the Connecticut lottery. The program receives about $1.9 million a year.

The specter of Internet gambling has Marvin Steinberg, executive director of the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling, a nonprofit group, concerned that online gambling could add to the number of problem gamblers in the state.

"We're not opposed to legalized gambling, but we're concerned for society with the amount of gambling that keeps coming along."

A 2009 study found that about 3 percent of the state's adult population has a problem with gambling, said Steinberg, who said he believes the rate is closer to 5 percent based on additional information gathered by his group, which receives the majority of its funding from Connecticut's two casinos and the state.

"There's no question that the states will take the Justice Department ruling as a green light to go ahead with online gambling," he said. "It's no surprise the governor is thinking of capitalizing on that. … In the last few years, the competition across state lines has been really enormous. If neighboring states have this form of gambling then it's likely we'll have to have it, too.

"My concern is that the states, including Connecticut, may be oblivious to the need for monies … for prevention and treatment of problem gambling. You have to address the social costs beforehand … within the legislation. If we're thinking about new forms of gambling, then put prevention and study and help for problem gambling in the bill."

Courant staff reporter Daniela Altimari contributed to this story.