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Connecticut Looks To Cash In On Sports Betting; Al Leiter, Cedric Maxwell Lobby For Athletes' Interests

Connecticut is moving closer to legalizing sports betting as a potential source of revenue, with a ruling from the the U.S. Supreme Court expected this spring.

On Tuesday, former Mets pitcher Al Leiter and former Celtics forward Cedric Maxwell were in Hartford as representatives of the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball, which favor sports betting as long as the leagues receive a percentage of the money bet. Legislative leaders said lawmakers need to be ready for legalized gambling if it happens — as multiple states will be scrambling for cash that gambling provides.

“With the Supreme Court ruling coming down within the next month, we want to be in a position to take advantage of it,’’ said House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz. Legislators have said sports betting could raise $40 to $80 million a year in Connecticut. The latest version of the bill says that the professional leagues would receive 0.25 percent of the total amount bet.

Morgan Sword, a senior vice president for Major League Baseball, said the Connecticut legislature is ahead of the curve on sports betting compared to other states.

“We think Connecticut has a real chance to pass a state-of-the-art statute here that could act as a model for other states,’’ Sword said. “We’ve been very impressed with the level of expertise that these guys have on this issue.’’

Legislators and the athletes agree that the betting will be successful with proper regulations.

“Assuming that the Supreme Court makes sports betting legal everywhere outside of Las Vegas, there’s going to be potential issues,’’ Leiter said. “I don’t know how it’s actually going to play out — whether brick and mortar [stores] or existing casinos or online. The more you broaden that, there’s got to be some regulation and some people watching to make sure that everything is done properly and maintain the integrity of the respective sport. … There has to be some oversight.’’

In anticipation of the Supreme Court ruling, 19 state legislatures have introduced sports betting bills, according to a tracker on ESPN.com.

Rhode Island lawmakers introduced a proposal to authorize state-run sports wagering at the Twin River Tiverton Casino, but with a ban in place for bets placed on Rhode Island college teams. State officials are also searching for an operator if sports betting is legalized. Gov. Gina Raimondo included $23.5 million from sports betting revenue in her state budget, which was released in January.

In New York — where a 2013 constitutional amendment paved the way for sports betting at the state’s casinos — legislators are considering a sports betting bill. Massachusetts lawmakers recently received a comprehensive report on the issue.

In Connecticut, Attorney General George Jepsen recently said casinos do not have the exclusive right for sports betting in the state.

Most crucial is protecting the integrity of sports, which have faced betting scandals dating back nearly 100 years.

“Every player knows the severity that if you bet on your sport, it is a death penalty,’’ Leiter said. “You know the story about Pete Rose, certainly the Black Sox and Shoeless Joe Jackson.’’

Rose, the former Cincinnati Reds All-Star had the most hits in Major League Baseball history, but has been blocked from the Hall of Fame because he bet on baseball. Jackson was a star player on the Chicago White Sox, who was banned from baseball after allegations that he and other players had purposely lost the World Series in exchange for $5,000 each, which was a huge sum in 1919.

Maxwell said Connecticut has a built-in advantage over some states.

“The casinos are here already,’’ Maxwell said. “So I think you have a basis right now for them going forward, whereas other states might not be as prepared.’’

Only West Virginia has passed a law in anticipation of the Supreme Court ruling, officials said.

“Whether Connecticut allows sports betting is going to be up to Connecticut and the people that work in this building,’’ Sword said. “We’re here because, if they choose to move forward, we think it’s extremely important that they protect the players’, the owners’ and the sports leagues’ interests.’’

Leiter, 52, pitched for both the Mets and Yankees and won the World Series three times before retiring in 2006. He now is a broadcaster for the MLB Network.

Maxwell, 62, is a two-time NBA champion, was MVP of the 1981 NBA Finals and has his No. 31 hanging from the Boston Garden rafters. He retired in 1988 and is a broadcaster for the Celtics.

Last year, the legislature passed a bill that called upon the state to start preparing regulations, but that is still underway.

“They came back, and they said we want more guidance,’’ Aresimowicz said. “Is there going to be an online presence? Do you want it to be the Lotto providers? Do you want it to be the casinos? Do you want it to be the OTBs? Do you want all of the above? Those are the questions that we’re trying to answer now.”


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