Igaming Focus: Connecticut provides another foothold for US online poker By Hannah Gannagé-Stewart, CDC Gaming Reports June 8, 2021 at 10:00 am Connecticut is set to become the sixth state to legalize online casino gaming, and the seventh to regulate online poker. The latter has a chequered past in the U.S. – hence the reticence of many states to include it in their post-PASPA regimes. Only last year, the U.S. justice system to brought Isai Scheinberg, the founder of internet-gambling giant PokerStars, before a federal court. It was the culmination of the 10-year fallout from Black Friday, when the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) came into force, shutting down unregulated poker sites across the US. While UIGEA prompted most igaming companies to play it safe and pull out of the U.S., some dug their heels in, including PokerStars – standing it in good stead a decade later, when poker is making a comeback. Currently the only markets to have legalized online poker are Nevada, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan and West Virginia. Michigan went live on January 29, 2021, while West Virginia is yet to establish an online poker presence, despite passing the legislation in March 2019. Nonetheless, on May 27, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont signed House Bill 6451 into law, legalising online sports betting, casino and poker games. The legislation updates the class III gaming compact with the Mohegan Tribe and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, which are responsible for the Mohegan Sun Casino and the Foxwoods casinos respectively. Welcoming the agreement after protracted negotiations, Mashantucket Pequot Tribal chairman Rodney Butler said it “ushers in a new modern era of gaming” and “solidifies our tribal/state partnership for years to come”. Similarly, Mohegan Tribal Council chairman James Gessner Jr said: “The advantages of these changes will be felt state-wide, to the benefit of Connecticut residents and our tribal members, at a time when our governments are collectively working to recover from the pandemic and provide vital services.” It is the tribes that have the sole right to offer all forms of online gaming in the state, while the Connecticut Lottery Corporation is limited to sports betting and online lottery games. So, who will the tribes turn to for their online poker offering? PokerStars is the obviously choice. It is already active in New Jersey, Michigan and Pennsylvania. The firm has been subject to two mega mergers in the last decade, being acquired by The Stars Group in 2014 and latterly by European gaming giant Flutter in 2020, creating some distance between Lamont’s vision of a “modernized, 21st century gaming experience” and the darker days of Black Friday and any associated legal proceedings. BetMGM is another contender, the product of a partnership between Entain and MGM Resorts. It also currently operates poker sites in Michigan, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. BetMGM is a part of the partypoker US network, which allows it to share player pools with Borgata and partypoker, but currently only within state lines. Like PokerStars, BetMGM will be keenly waiting for news on the Wire Act to make a move on interstate liquidity pools. Caesars Interactive has been touted as another potential partner to the Connecticut tribes. With a population of 3.6 million people, Connecticut is considerably smaller than Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Michigan but is larger than fellow poker-friendly states Delaware, West Virginia and Nevada. It’s expected that the tribes will make a deal that sets them in the best stead to benefit from any prospect of shared liquidity in the future. Since March it has looked a lot more likely that shared liquidity between states will become possible, without it contravening the Wire Act. While the Department of Justice could still appeal the latest dismissal of its case to extend the Wire Act beyond sport betting, it is thought to be unlikely under the new Biden administration, potentially opening a window for online poker to make an even greater impact on the U.S. market. As far as Connecticut goes, though, none of this will happen immediately. The state and the tribes still have to have their compacts approved by the federal government. As such, it’s unlikely that we’ll hear anything further about how the states intend to tackle the poker market until next year. Meanwhile, Illinois is also mulling the legalisation of online poker as part of its Internet gaming Act.