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Lawmakers Hedge Bets on Online Gambling

FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. – Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is betting that online gambling “is inevitable” in Connecticut and would raise significant revenue for state coffers. But Republican state legislators are wagering against him.

“It is clear online gambling will become a reality, given the federal decision, and now (we) must decide how to address it,” Malloy said during a news conference in Hartford earlier this month.

The online gambling debate was fueled after the U.S. Department of Justice released a legal opinion several weeks ago that New York and Illinois could sell state lottery tickets online. That decision prompted Malloy to say there was no way to stop online gambling in Connecticut.

He has requested that his administration and a special panel consider whether to allow Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods or the state lottery to administer online gambling operations in Connecticut.

Not so fast, say Republicans legislators, led by Fairfield County lawmakers, who believe Connecticut is not bound by the opinion. They say public opinion and the legislative process must decide the issue – not an executive order by the governor.

“How did Governor Malloy reach the bizarre conclusion that online gambling in Connecticut is a done deal?" Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R- Fairfield, asks on his website. “Governor Malloy is completely wrong to say online gambling is 'inevitable' in Connecticut."

In a statement Thursday, McKinney said, “After consulting legal and research staff, the DOJ (Department of Justice) opinion merely allows states, if they choose, to authorize online gaming within its borders and between in-state residents.

“There are existing mechanisms available and in use to prohibit in-state residents from engaging in online gaming transactions if the state chooses to keep online gambling illegal."

House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R- Norwalk, said, “This is all a desperate attempt to grab every nickel from every source possible, regardless of the negative impact on society."

Cafero said he is concerned "about the addictive behavior legal online gambling could foster in many individuals, especially young people so familiar with the Internet. Young teenagers have grown up with videogames, online poker and games of chance, and this could make them think it’s just a game. But it’s not a game, it’s real money.”

State Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, says Malloy’s recent comments are not based on legal fact. She is a member of the legislature’s Revenue, Finance and Bonding Committee, which would hold public hearings on the issue.

“This is a very serious issue that we should be taking a much broader look at, and the public must be allowed to weigh in on it,” said Boucher, whose district also includes parts of New Canaan, Weston and Westport.

Boucher said public comments about online gambling have been mostly negative at several town meetings, including at the Rotary Club of New Canaan on Thursday.

“I’m not an advocate for gambling. I think there are more negatives than positives,” she said. “This is just a mad dash for revenue growth, because we have spent too much. Now the governor is trying to find ways to raise revenue to continue spending at an unsustainable rate.”

According to a recent report, Virginia Seitz, assistant attorney general responsible for crafting the Department of Justice opinion, said, “the opinion in no way compels Connecticut to authorize online gambling, and it would not allow another state to authorize online gaming directed at Connecticut residents."

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