FILE - In this Aug. 26, 2008 file photo, the new Casino of the Wind at Mohegan Sun is shown in Uncasville, Conn. The two biggest tribal-owned casinos in the United States, Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun, have launched websites with online versions of casino games. Officials from the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and the Mohegan Tribe say they want to be prepared in case Internet gambling is legalized at the federal level or in their home state of Connecticut. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
May 31, 2014 10:28PM
By MICHAEL MELIA
HARTFORD, Conn. — At the online version of the Foxwoods Resort Casino, customers can play nearly every game and buy credits that build up reward points for merchandise and hotel stays at the real property. One thing they cannot do, at least for now, is wager money.
Foxwoods and its local rival, Mohegan Sun, the two biggest tribal-owned casinos in the United States, each have launched websites in case Internet gambling is legalized at the federal level or in their home state of Connecticut.
While prospects for changes to the law remain uncertain, the casinos have found the sites offer value as marketing tools for the giant resorts, sources of market data through user registrations and, at least in the case of Foxwoods, revenue through credit purchases.
“What we’re finding is that it’s actually a useful tool for building a database, getting our brand out there and connecting people to the property,” said Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, which owns and operates Foxwoods.
Foxwoods launched its “online casino” in January, through a partnership with GameAccount Network, and Butler said about 50,000 users have set up accounts. Users can buy credits to play longer or gain access to exclusive games. The credits add to reward points for use at stores, hotels and restaurants at Foxwoods.
Mohegan Sun teamed with Bally Technologies to begin offering an online poker site more than a year ago. It doesn’t sell credits for money, but users can compete for hotel stays and gift vouchers. Chuck Bunnell, a spokesman for the Mohegan Tribe, said there is strong interest in the site and it has helped measure who likes to play and when.
The two tribes, who claim exclusive rights to casino-style gambling in Connecticut, say they want to be ready for Internet gaming.
Online gambling is legal in only three states — Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware — and similar legislation has been proposed in several other states. The federal government cracked down on online gambling in 2011 but said later that year that it’s legal as long as it’s permitted by the state.
Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman aren’t interested in pursuing Internet gambling, said Juliet Manalan, a spokeswoman for Wyman.
Bunnell said the tribe has talked with lawmakers about changing the law, mainly at the federal level but also in Connecticut. He said Internet gambling is already taking place without regulations.
“If indeed the government wants to regulate it and offer it to appropriate people, we’re ready and able to do that,” Bunnell said.
Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, said the absence of regulations for online gaming places a huge responsibility on the growing amount of operators to protect customers. Butler said the Foxwoods site has technology that addresses concerns including age verification and where customers are playing.