- Associated Press - Friday, January 31, 2014

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Connecticut has seen a recent influx of businesses that illegally offer video gambling, according to the state Council on Problem Gambling and a lawmaker who said Friday that she will propose a crackdown through legislation.

The gambling parlors in towns including Enfield, Bloomfield and East Windsor are not regulated and do not offer any protections for customers, who are predominantly senior citizens, said state Sen. Danté Bartolomeo, a Meriden Democrat.

The American Gaming Association says the “Internet sweepstakes cafes” have opened in storefronts, convenience stories and elsewhere in more than dozen states. While the businesses have argued they do not offer gambling, but rather sweepstakes, the casino industry group says courts around the country have determined it is a form of gambling.

Bartolomeo said her proposed legislation, which is modeled on laws in Massachusetts and Mississippi, would clearly define the activity at such parlors as illegal.

“It needs to be something where the legislation is there to back up and support the police,” said Bartolomeo, who said she first learned of the issue from her husband, a policeman. “Nobody is looking out for the patrons the way they do in a legal gaming operations.”

Mary Drexler, executive director of the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling, said the parlors target senior citizens and typically offer so-called “phone card sweepstakes” with players paying for a swipe card to play video slots and redeem points for cash.

“But most people play until their money is exhausted,” she said. “There are no consumer protections, no guarantees of payouts.”

State Sen. Joan Hartley, a Waterbury Democrat who is chairman of the Public Safety Committee, said the gambling parlors masquerade as something they are not in order to avoid oversight.

“This is obviously an issue that we need to address immediately,” she said. “I can promise you definitive legislation to address this problem before the end of the session.”

In Connecticut, the only businesses currently allowed to offer slots-style gambling are Mohegan Sun and the Foxwoods Resort casino, which provide a quarter of their slot revenue to the state under tribal compacts. Some lawmakers are reviewing whether the state should also consider allowing slot machines and video gambling at the off-track betting centers.

Kevin Brown, chairman of the Mohegan Tribe, said it is concerned about the reports of illegal gambling and appreciates the legislative proposal.

“Connecticut has very strict and clear gaming laws and a compact with the Mohegan Tribe that protects patrons who visit Mohegan Sun and the thousands of individuals who work there,” he said.

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