Connecticut lawmakers approved emergency regulations on Tuesday allowing sports betting and online gambling – over objections from some Republican lawmakers that rushing to beat the kickoff of the NFL season was not a good reason to authorize a massive emergency expansion of gambling in the state.
The emergency regulations, which will allow for online gambling and sports betting to begin before Sept. 9, passed the Legislative Regulation Review Committee by a vote of 9-4 – with four Republican lawmakers voting “no” over what they say are concerns regarding a hurried process timed to the beginning of football.
A number of lawmakers also expressed concerns regarding which methods of payment to allow for online gambling – with State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, calling for the inclusion of electronic payment methods like Venmo and ApplePay, and State Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, questioning the wisdom of allowing people to gamble using jointly-held bank accounts.
Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner Michelle Seagull told the lawmakers that they would work to resolve concerns about the payment methods as the regulations are finalized in the coming months.
Kissel, one of the lawmakers who voted “no,” on the emergency regulations, said the process appeared needlessly rushed, given that the state was already behind other states in approving online and sports betting.
“This is a brand new era,” Kissel said. “We’re going to be enticing young people in particular with these games. It will be accessible by cell phone 24/7. Someone could lose their entire life savings in their cellar overnight and not even know it.”
Committee co-chair, Rep. Nicole Klarides-Ditria, R-Seymour, voted to approve the regulations, but said that emergency regulations are usually reserved for issues of public safety or health – and did not see how the gambling regulations fit under either.
State Rep. Christie Carpino, R-Cromwell, who voted “yes,” said that a significant amount of work had gone into drafting the regulations, and that they were ready for the commission to approve – but she also asked for assurances from Seagull that her department would work with stakeholders to finalize definitions in the regulations, and resolve questions about payment methods.
The issue of payments was raised by both sides of the aisle — with some lawmakers expressing worries that electronic payment methods would be left out and others fretting the effects of allowing people to gamble on credit cards and joint accounts.
Kissel said he was concerned about the possibility that someone with an addiction could gamble using a bank account they held jointly with their partner, without their partner’s knowledge.
“I think it puts these relationships at much greater risk of running into trouble,” Kissel said. “Nothing could be more disheartening and undermining of trust than realizing the nest egg or savings one relies on to pay the bills has vanished quite quickly because another individual used the account on a gambling spree.”
Seagull said the department did initially consider restricting payments from joint accounts, but such restrictions would be easy to circumvent and difficult to monitor. And for many people who want to gamble responsibly, she said, not allowing the use of a joint bank account would pose an unnecessary barrier.
Seagull said the department needed to balance how to regulate an activity like gambling or alcohol, when the state decides to allow it, and most adults can take part without major issues.
She said the department aims to place the least amount of “undue burden” possible on adults who want to engage in online gambling or sports betting, while also recognizing that some people will be challenged by the easy availability of the activities.
“It’s interesting to compare this question with the idea that we don’t make it easy enough for people to fund accounts because we’re not doing Venmo, and we’re not doing PayPal,” Seagull said. “That just highlights the difficult balance that needs to be struck.”
Osten – a key legislative ally of the Mohegan and Pequot tribal nations and their casino businesses – urged the department to allow those electronic forms of payment, like Venmo. Osten said the law authorizing online gaming gives the department authority to allow those programs, and that those programs are how a lot of people pay now.
Seagull said that, in the emergency regulations, the department was careful to stick to the language of the law, and that she believed there may need to be a change to the statute to allow those forms of payment.
Kissel also questioned whether credit cards could be used as payment for online gaming and sports betting – recalling that he once tried to buy a lottery ticket with a credit card, and the clerk refused.
Seagull said the state’s policy previously has been that people cannot gamble on credit, but that changed with the law passed last session that authorized online gaming and sports betting.
A department spokesperson confirmed to CT Examiner that credit cards can now be used through an “electronic wagering platform” – so people could use credit cards to bet online or at a sports betting location, because they will rely on an electronic wagering platform to process transactions. Credit cards still cannot be used to buy lottery tickets at brick-and-mortar stores.