Dreamtime / Nevinates
After many years of political stalemate, Connecticut has finally found its way to legalization sports betting This year.
The good news for online poker players and other players is that iGaming came for the ride. In fact, it turned out to be the bargaining chip the governor’s office needed to persuade the tribes to let the state lottery run sports betting.
Theoretically, this includes the ability to play online poker in Connecticut. In practice, however, Nutmeggers shouldn’t expect this to happen right away, and it may not happen at all.
The state said it expects to be ready for a synchronized launch of sports betting and online casino on October 7. Based on the wording, this sounds more like a target date than a firm promise. At this point in the process, however, and with so few products to test and license, the delays are likely to be short.
Sports betting is all the rage in the United States these days, so there’s no shortage of coverage on what to expect from Connecticut sports betting. Some of this coverage includes discussions about online casinos, some does not. However, poker is almost always left out of the conversation.
To try and rectify that, here’s our rundown on what you can – and can’t – expect from online poker in Connecticut.
How Connecticut Gaming Expansion Is Structured
While Connecticut has legalized all of the major verticals in gambling, it has done so in a limited way.
As is the case in Michigan and West Virginia, online poker is not considered separate from Connecticut online casino. Both are distinct from sports betting, but grouped together under the umbrella of “online gambling”.
That said, the regulatory rules developed by the Department of Consumer Protection treat online poker as part of the same sub-category of online games as live dealer casino games. He sees both as a form of “simulcast”, since several geographically separated players bet on the same game. This has important ramifications which we will see later.
The only entities that will be able to offer online gaming legally in the state are the two tribes. Unlike most online gambling states, Connecticut will only allow one brand for each:
- The Mashantucket pequot own and operate Foxwoods Resort Casino, and have established a partnership with DraftKings for iGaming and sports betting.
- The Mohegan Tribe owns and operates Sun of Mohegan, and chose FanDuel like his partner. However, it has its own online division, Digital mohegan, and may end up using its own brand for online gambling, with FanDuel simply providing the technology.
Each of them will also have a bookmaker under the same brand. There will also be another sportsbook in the state:
- The Connecticut Lottery will engage in sports betting through a partnership with Rush Street Interactive, using the PlaySugarHouse Mark.
The lottery will also be able to sell raffle tickets online and perform online keno, with another partner. However, he will not be able to perform any kind of iGaming, including online poker. So DraftKings and Mohegan Sun are the only potential games in town.
Could Mohegan bring PokerStars to Connecticut?
Much of the discussion about the future of online poker in Connecticut has centered around the first of these two partnerships. Neither FanDuel nor DraftKings have their own poker product. However, FanDuel is owned by the Anglo-Irish mega-conglomerate Beat, who also recently acquired The group of stars.
PokerStars is the market leader in online poker in Pennsylvania and Michigan. It is also arguably the most important poker brand in the world, although recently GGPoker has been a challenge for his crown internationally.
Neither Flutter nor Mohegan Digital have announced plans to launch a poker product in Connecticut. However, the president of Mohegan Digital has hinted that this could be a possibility in the future.
In short, if it turns out that Connecticut only gets one online poker room, a Mohegan branded product powered by PokerStars would be the favorite.
However, there is no guarantee that this will happen. A stand-alone poker room would probably not be economically viable. Cross-selling is king in the online gaming space, which means integrated applications. PokerStars is an entirely separate product from FanDuel, so their account management systems are unlikely to be compatible. Only the software engineers at Flutter know how difficult it would be to convert PokerStars technology for use on a FanDuel-based platform.
Almost nothing is impossible in technology. It’s just a matter of how much work it would take, and if Connecticut’s small market is worth it. Ensuring that the resulting hybrid would be compatible with other PokerStars products in the event of interstate liquidity sharing would be an additional challenge.
Is DraftKings working on a poker product?
At first glance, the DraftKings-Foxwoods partnership seems much less likely to produce an online poker room for Connecticut. DraftKings currently doesn’t offer poker anywhere, and the Mashantucket Pequots don’t have their own online gaming company like Mohegan does.
However, rumors have circulated over the past year that DraftKings may be working on a poker product or considering doing so. A proof of this theory appears if you search on Google for poker draftkings.
This produces a result for an online poker page on the DraftKings site, with preview text that begins:
The leader in sports entertainment technology is not bluffing. Go all out with Poker to DraftKings. Burn them and turn them over.
However, clicking on the link results in a 404 error, because the page itself does not exist, or is not accessible to regular visitors. In other words, DraftKings seems to be crouching over the search result in case it needs such a page in the future.
DraftKings may be less likely to develop a new poker product in-house, and more likely to attempt to acquire an existing one. At the moment he is in talks to try to buy Entain, who own Partypoker. However, if this deal goes through, it’s unclear what will happen with BetMGM, which is a joint venture between Entain and MGM Resorts International. BetMGM is one of DraftKings’ biggest rivals and already uses Partypoker software for its own product.
At this point, the possibility of a DraftKings poker product powered by Partypoker is a question corporate lawyers need to ponder. It would also have the same problem as the PokerStars-FanDuel hybrid, namely the need to reconcile two different platforms to make it an integrated application.
The interstate question
The small population of the state further complicates the problem. With only about 3.5 million people, Connecticut is smaller than any other independent poker market in existence today. Alone Nevada is of comparable size, but its only online poker room, WSOP, share traffic with New Jersey and Delaware.
There was a time when New Jersey was not in the mix, and Delaware’s contribution to traffic is minimal. However, Nevada is the gambling capital of the United States and therefore hits well above its weight. It’s not entirely clear if 3.5 million people are enough to run the games in a hypothetical Connecticut online poker room.
We saw that West Virginia has failed to attract any poker operator, although it is legal for them to operate there. However, it is only half the population of Connecticut, leaving Nutmeg State in untested middle ground that could go both ways.
This is where it becomes relevant that Connecticut treats online poker as “simulcast” and the equivalent of live dealer games. The rules for these games specify that simulcasting from out-of-state servers is only allowed until March 2022. After that, all servers must be in-state. This is a temporary measure to allow live dealer games to start immediately and allow time Evolution game or some other business to build a live sales studio in Connecticut.
A representative of the Department of Consumer Protection clarified these rules with respect to live dealer games. She did not respond to a direct request on whether Connecticut could join an interstate poker deal later.
The only good news here is that the current rules are emergency rules. This allowed them to get approval faster, but it also means they’re temporary. Connecticut poker players can therefore still hope that the final rules contain provisions for interstate poker.
Nothing guaranteed except a long wait
Unfortunately, the long and short of this is that Connecticut poker players will just have to wait and see. Although it is legal, there is no guarantee that online poker will come to the state at all.
If it happens, it will consist of a poker room or two at most. If a trader finds it economically viable to go into business without shared liquidity, it will be a very small room. There probably won’t be any running games except for low and medium stakes No Limit Hold’em and Pot-Limit Omaha. Multi-table tournaments will be small and have unimpressive guarantees.
Shared liquidity would be a massive boon, but depends on the state’s willingness to allow it. It would also add many months, maybe even years to the timeline to get poker off the ground.
In the meantime, Connecticut poker players can make their voices heard. Write to the Governor’s Office and the Consumer Protection Department to let them know what legal online poker would mean to you, and why sharing interstate traffic is so important.