Tribe accepting bets on games involving WNBA team it owns

On the first legal sports wager in Connecticut, Gov. Ned Lamont showed a potential area of concern for the state.

Lamont placed the first bet at the Mohegan Sun, putting $50 on the Connecticut Sun to win its playoff game with the Chicago Sky, moments after casino president Jeff Hamilton, a member of the tribe, urged people to bet on the Sun.

“They are playing the Sky and the sky is the limit,” Lamont said. “I’m going to bet they’re going all the way.”

The wager captured the attention of some experts and state lawmakers, concerned about a potential conflict of interest with the Mohegan Tribe accepting bets on the WNBA team it owns.

Later, at an arena inside the same casino complex, the Sun made the governor a winner with a 79-68 victory Thursday night.

When Connecticut lawmakers set up emergency regulations and legislation allowing for sports betting, they barred Mohegan Sun employees, including those involved with the team, from placing bets at the sportsbook. They also prohibited anyone from betting on games involving UConn, Yale or any other university in the state.

But they did not prohibit the tribe from accepting bets on games involving the Connecticut Sun.

“It appears to me there would be the same concern, an untoward influence from the gambling,” said Shawn Klein, a sports ethicist at Arizona State University. “One thing you’d want to know is what kind of firewall is there between the direct management of the team and those in the casino that are setting the lines, taking the bets and whatnot.”

It’s a potential conflict that has addressed before. When MGM Resorts owned the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces, it banned betting on games involving that team at any of its properties.

Hamilton, in a statement to The Associated Press on Thursday night, said the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Commission will be monitoring the activities of the sportsbook.

He also noted that the tribe is partnering with FanDuel on many aspects of the betting, including setting the wagering lines. FanDuel also has a partnership agreement with The Associated Press.

“Additionally, we are following all betting regulations that the WNBA currently has,” he said. “When online sports betting is able to go live, the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection will also serve as a regulation body for all online sports betting in the state. Industry leading sports wagering analytic services will also be in place to further ensure there is no undue influence at play.”

Connecticut State Rep. Maria Horn, a Democrat who co-chairs the legislative committee that oversees gambling in the state, said she and other lawmakers began talking about the potential conflict after the governor, who is also a Democrat, made his bet. She said it may be addressed in the next legislative session, when permanent regulations are approved for the state’s three approved sportsbooks.

“We had been more concerned that nobody with a substantial interest in that team could bet on the team,” she said. “This is a major expansion (of gambling) and I would be very surprised if we got everything right in the first bite. I expect that we will go back and take a look at whether a tweak needs to be made.”

The WNBA and NBA have an agreement that allows third-party sportsbooks in arenas in which teams play as long as they are separated from all arena common areas and accessible solely by those who are legally able to gamble.

The league did not respond to specific questions about how it would address any potential conflict with the Mohegan Sun taking bets on the Connecticut Sun.

Klein said if the tribe can show that there is little or no contact between those who are involved in the casino and those who run the team, it may be able to mitigate the issue.

“What the MGM did is really erase the possibility that there is a conflict of interest by not even taking the bets,” he said. “So, that may be more effective. It may be better.”

Copyright © 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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