The battle lines have been drawn over whether the state should legalize online gaming but debate over the contentious issue may have to wait for another day.
Rep. Steve Dargan, co-chair of the legislature's public safety and security committee, said this morning the committee does not intend to file an internet gaming bill in the 2012 legislative session. The public safety committee traditionally has jurisdiction over gaming matters, however it's possible that another committee could raise the issue.
"We are in the infancy stage of trying to understand this issue,'' said Dargan, D-West Haven.
Gov.Dannel P. Malloyhad expressed the view that online gambling will inevitably come to Connecticut. He cited aU.S. Department of Justiceruling, made public late last year, that he says opens the door for states to legalize Internet gaming and "if it's allowed in any state, it will appear in every state,'' he said in January.
Dargan said he spoke with the governor's office on Tuesday and was told that the executive branch does not intend to submit a bill legalizing online gaming this session, which begins next Wednesday.
Malloy echoed that Thursday afternoon. Asked during a press conference in West Hartford if his office intends to submit an Internet gaming bill this session, he said "I think it's highly unlikely that we would. I think it's a discussion item. Clearly there's not a lot of excitement around the issue.''
"I will continue to say that we have a mature two casino industry in this state, employing tens of thousands of individuals, which is going to come under tremendous pressure as a result of the federal government having changed its position,'' Malloy said at the tail end of the press conference, in which he unveiled his early childhood education plan.
"I think it's highly appropriate that a discussion be had about that subject lest we lose thousands of those tens of thousands of jobs. I was not a proponent of this type of gaming and quite frankly I think the decision by the Justice Department the Friday before Christmas holiday was somewhat akin to a bolt of lightning.''
The governor said he intends to keep a close watch on neighboring states as theymove to increase gambling options. Connecticut has been "the beneficiary of these tens of thousands of jobs, as well as the revenue associated with gaming as it currently exists, as well as our own lottery. These dollars are going into some very good things--[they've] supported education programs like the one that we're here [for] or any service that government provides. I think we need to be cognizant of the challenge and I am. I think it would be immature not to have the discussion about the challenges that are presented."
Senate Republican Leader John McKinney of Fairfield cheered the news. "I don't believe that putting a 24/7 electronic casino in every house in CT so the government can profit from it is the way to solve our budget crisis. I am pleased that the Public Safety Committee and the Malloy administration will not be submitting legislation to legalize online gambling this year," McKinney said. “State government needs to refocus on policies that will promote real economic growth. We need to shrink the size of government, tackle real pension and employee benefit reform, and stop attacking businesses with new mandates and bad policy."Dargan said the issue surrounding online gambling are very complex and has broad repercussions. The federal government is also expected to play a role: the U.S. Senate will hold a hearing on the Department of Justice ruling next week.
Dargan's comments came during a two-and-a-half hour informational hearing by the public safety committee on online gaming at the state Capitol complex this morning.
The committee heard from several executives from the state's casinos, including Chuck Bunnell of Mohegan Sun and Anshu Z. Kalhan and Frank Pracukowski of the Foxwoods Development Company.
The representatives of the two tribes note that online gambling is already here--numerous offshore sites offer the opportunity to wager on games via the internet. However the state does not have the ability to regulate that activity to ensure under-aged players are not participating. The state also receives no benefit from online gambling, they added.
They also said it is far easier to police under-aged and problem gamblers online than it is in bricks-and-mortar casinos. Online gaming sites have sophisticated screening software designed to prevent abuses, the casino officials said.