The Connecticut Lottery Corporation announced Thursday it is partnering with Rush Street Interactive, an online casino and sports betting company that operates in 10 states, marking the latest development in Connecticut's push to have legalized sports wagering up and running soon.
Known in the industry as RSI, the Chicago-based firm will operate the quasi-public lottery's planned online sports betting platform, under a preliminary 10-year agreement that's guaranteed to deliver at least $170 million in revenue over the next decade. Lottery officials also announced Sportech, the state's licensed off-track betting operator, will offer sports wagering at 10 of 15 physical locations granted to the lottery under a new gambling expansion law signed by Gov. Ned Lamont.
“We are confident we will be taking sports bets this NFL season, in the early part of it,” said Rob Simmelkjaer, chairman of the lottery's board of directors, explaining that in-person sports betting might be launched before online sports betting. Trailing other states in legalized sports betting, there's been a urgency among some officials to get the system up and running in time for the lucrative professional football season.
Meanwhile, a separate request for proposals for an online lottery operator is expected to be released in about a week. People will likely be able to play online lottery in the first quarter of 2022, said Greg Smith, the lottery's president and CEO.
Connecticut's new gambling law allows only the lottery and the state's two federally recognized Native American tribes - the Mashantucket Pequots and Mohegans - to operate in-person and online sports wagering. The Mashantucket Pequots, owners and operators of Foxwoods Resort Casino, have already partnered with DraftKings, while the Mohegans, owners and operators of Mohegan Sun casino, are working with FanDuel, setting up a potentially competitive market for sports bettors in the state.
The tribes, which are also allowed under the law to offer fantasy sports contests and online casino gambling, are currently awaiting the necessary federal approvals from the U.S. Department of the Interior to proposed changes in their existing gambling agreements with the state of Connecticut.
Also, the lottery and the tribes need the General Assembly's Legislative Regulation Review Committee to approve new, wide-ranging state regulations for an entirely new gambling market in Connecticut that includes sports wagering, online casino gambling and keno, online lottery draw games and fantasy contests. Those regulations are still being finalized by the state Department of Consumer Protection and are expected to be submitted under a fast-tracked process to the committee next week, likely in time for the committee's next meeting, which is scheduled for Aug. 31.
“We are moving as quickly as we can,” said Leslie O'Brien, legislative director of the Department of Consumer Protection. “Our goal is to put these guardrails in place through these regulations, ensure that we have regulations that protect consumers, that encourage responsible gaming, that ensure data privacy and gaming integrity. And those are the things that we’re really working toward here.”
Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequots, said the Department of the Interior could act “at any time” on his tribe's proposed amendments to its memorandum of understanding and compact with the state. Once that happens and the regulations are approved, he said gamblers can start placing their bets.
“The Tribe is ready to launch online gaming and sports betting as soon as we are legally allowed to do. And if everything lines up, Sept. 9 is achievable," he said in a statement, referring to the start of the regular 2021 NFL season. A message was left seeking comment with the Mohegan Tribe.
Rush Street Interactive launched its online gambling business in New Jersey in 2016 under the brand name PlaySugarHouse.com. It also operates under the brands BetRivers.com and RushBet.co. It's unclear which brand will be used in Connecticut. The company also oversees operations of the Rivers Casino & Resort Schenectady retail race book in New York, the first casino in the state to have legal sports betting. The company on Monday submitted a joint application for a mobile sportsbook license to offer sports betting services throughout New York as well.
While Connecticut lottery officials wouldn't say how much of the state's sports betting market share they expect to secure, Richard Schwartz, RSI's president, predicted that his company will be competitive with the tribes - veteran operators of large, resort casinos - and their well-known operators, DraftKings and FanDuel.
“We will be working very closely with the lottery as well as Sportech to drive a lot of the traffic online," said Schwartz, who said his company has been able to successfully partner with bricks-and-mortar casinos in Illinois and Pennsylvania. He noted that RSI also offers popular services to its players, such as allowing them to bet in the middle of a game and cash out quickly, which he predicted will ultimately give the lottery a competitive edge.