MASHANTUCKET, Conn. (AP) — Daniel LeBlance drove from his home on Thursday in New York City to Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut to place one of the first bets on professional and collegiate level sports teams, now that it's legal in the state.
For LeBlance, it seemed extraordinary how fast sports wagering has gotten up and running, not realizing it has actually taken years of debate in the state's General Assembly and multiple failed attempts by governors to reach Thursday's milestone: when retail bets could be taken at Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun.
“It’s like a pleasant surprise pretty much," he said. “People are just excited to have it.”
Thursday marked the first day of the state's long-awaited rollout of bipartisan legislation that legalizes sports and internet wagering. The two tribal casinos held events to mark the grand opening of temporary sports betting venues, with Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont given the honor of placing the first bet at each attraction. At Mohegan Sun, he bet $50 on the Connecticut Sun, the tribe's professional women's basketball team. At Foxwoods, he bet $20 each on the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Besides opening permanent state-of-the-art sports betting venues, both the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes hope to launch online sports betting and other wagering, pending state approvals, in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, the state's quasi-public Connecticut Lottery Corporation, which is partnering with off-tracking-betting operator Sportech, is expected to roll out sports betting kiosks at the first three of 10 Sportech venues in the first week of October, with plans for online gambling as well.
In Connecticut, known as the land of steady habits, the push to modernize the state's gambling offerings has been challenging. It's been especially complicated and slow given the state's unique revenue-sharing agreements with the two federally recognized tribal nations and efforts not jeopardize those compacts.
During that time, sports betting has become legal in about two dozen states, prompting concerns that Connecticut would fall behind the competition.
“There was so much unfinished business they hadn't been able to get over the finish line for many many years. And sports betting and iGaming is one of it, and going back some time,” Lamont said, referring to when he first took office in 2019. “It took some good negotiation and I think we got it right.”
Both tribes, whose casinos were hit hard by the pandemic, have been pushing for the ability to offer both retail and online sports betting, as well as other online games of chance.
While he doesn't think sports betting alone will rival revenue from slot machines or table games, Mohegan Sun President and General Manager Jeff Hamilton said in an interview that he expects it will be a very important offering.
“There's a lot of table players that also like to bet on sports. So it gives them a reason to come and maybe they make a wager on sports, but they also will play a table game, they'll play slots or they'll go to our restaurants,” he said. “What we see in other jurisdictions, is that when you have sports betting, it also increases the revenue for your other revenue sources as well.”
Jason Guyotte, chief executive officer of Foxwoods Resort Casino, called sports betting “a huge deal” for the long-term sustainability of the tribe while also driving more customer traffic at the sprawling resort.
“Brick-and-mortar retail sports book actually does drive incremental gaming revenue. So we hope it does play a part in increasing the amenities we have here at the resort and opportunities for employment here,” Guyotte said.
Chelsea Savignac and her boyfriend Brian McMahon of Lisbon, Connecticut, two sports fans, showed up to see the rollout of the first sports betting kiosks at Foxwoods. They said they're looking forward hanging out at Foxwoods when the new sports betting venue opens in mid-November.
“I think it would be really fun to kind of sit back, watch the games, bet, be physically there, watch it all happen," Savignac said. "There be more energy, more interaction with the sport instead of just doing it from the couch on your phone."
Zach Young of New Haven, Connecticut, said he has been “waiting for this day,” recalling how he’d often scroll through the sports betting apps he couldn’t play in preparation.
“I’ve actually lived in a couple of states that already have the sports betting. So, in terms of timing, they are behind," Young said. "But they’re going to do fine, especially with Foxwoods and Mohegan being sports book houses.”