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Connecticut Lottery Set to Open Major Sports Betting Venue at Hartford’s XL Center
The Connecticut Lottery Corp. has revealed plans to launch a sports betting venue at downtown Hartford’s XL Center that is prominent enough to boost the remodeling of the 46-year old arena that used to be home to NBA’s Boston Celtics until 1995. Under the new sports and online gambling law, the lottery will handle the location of 15 sports betting venues in the state. The corporation said it is first looking to scout a few smaller locations within the Hartford area in a bid to bring sports betting to the gambling public sooner. Legislative heads have confirmed that betting could begin at the new venue as quickly as the first game of the new NFL season on September 9.
Former executive at ESPN AND NBC Sports and Chairman of the Lottery Board, Rob Simmelkjaer, explained that sports betting at Hartford’s XL Center would be one part of a bigger venue function. He added that the venue would host gambling alongside dining, bars, and several other entertainment options potentially made up of esports, video-based gaming where contestants face off against each other.
“We’re talking about a plan that is most certainly going to be a long-term one as it’ll require considerable investment and development, maybe even construction. That’s why we’re looking to get some short-term sites that will help us enter the market faster,” Simmelkjaer said.
Simmelkjaer revealed that the beginning of the 2022 NFL season was the earliest possible time that the XL Center could become a fully built venue for sports betting in Connecticut. He added that he was still hopeful that sections could be added before that time.
The law for expanding regulated gambling in Connecticut was approved by Governor Ned Lamont last week. Apart from being allowed to create new sports betting venues in 15 spots, the lottery was also permitted to operate online gambling by the new law. Tribal casinos in the state were also allowed to run sports betting alongside online gambling.
Debates over the most significant expansion of legal gambling in Connecticut in decades filled the state’s legislative chambers this spring. In recent weeks, however, Rob Simmelka and Greg Smith, CEO of the Connecticut Lottery, scouted the XL Center and other smaller locations in Hartford that could be set up faster. Those smaller sites are presently handled by Sportech, which has a license to provide off-track getting in the state. They could soon be sublicensed to allow for sports betting.
According to Simmelkjaer, the smaller sites include Bobby V’s in Windsor Locks, Shea’s Pizzeria and Sports Bar in Manchester, and Winners on Brainard Road in Hartford.
Simmelkjaer also said that making the XL Center one of the bigger sports betting locations in the state is a requirement from the governor. “The governor clearly explained that he would like for that location to have something big. He wants to utilize sports betting as a way to aid the growth of that area, and that is something that’s part of the Center’s development progress plan,” Simmelkjaer noted.
For over a decade now, the future of the aging XL Center has been the subject of debate. The Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA), which is in charge of the arena, cut down its remodeling budget from $250 million to around $100 million. The focus of the renovation switched to premium seating and better amenities in the bottom half of the arena in a bid to increase profitability.
Those who oppose the remodeling say that they disagree with the state putting taxpayer dollars back into a money-draining arena. A few of them believe that the entire arena should be brought down and redeveloped from scratch.
The financial and physical scope of introducing a sports betting venue at the XL Center is not clear yet. Still, the Executive Director of the CRDA, Michael Freimuth, disclosed that there are other options for adding a sports betting component to the arena.
Freimuth revealed that those alternatives are the exhibition hall, lower-level suites, ‘back of house’ spots already designated as potential space for fans and visitors, and the Northland Investment Corp-owned atrium off Trumbull Street. For a few years now, the CRDA has tried and failed to reach an agreement with the owners of the atrium to secure the space.
“The way we see it, this option is a complimentary one. We definitely see it as an option we would love for the facility,” Freimuth explained.
Rob Simmelkjaer stated that private investors are considering financing the sports betting venue at the XL Center. He also added that whichever company is selected to operate the lottery-controlled locations could also play a role in the financing.
About 15 different operators submitted proposals, and four of them have been selected to hand in more comprehensive plans. Simmelkjaer noted that these plans are expected within the first two weeks after Gov. Lamont signed the gambling expansion into law.
Introducing a sports betting venue at the XL Center could help make available up to $65 million in improvement funds for renovations. The state’s legislators have sanctioned the borrowing of funds. However, the State Bond Commission, led by the governor, hasn’t released the funds.
The Capital Region Development Authority previously got up to $40 million in borrowed funds from the state about a couple of years ago. Half of the money was used to make repairs in a bid to attract private investors to the center. The project did not garner any serious interest.
Speaker of the House, Democrat Matt Ritter from Harford, and other legislators who agreed to remodel the XL Center explained that introducing a sports betting venue at the arena could offset some of its renovation costs.
“I am quite certain that we will find a way to make forward progress. It would be really strange to be considering adding a major facility to a spot that we were set to bring down,” Ritter said.
Luke Bronin, Mayor of Hartford, agreed with plans to introduce a sports betting venue as one part of a remodeled XL Center. He stated that such a move would greatly profit the city, bringing more visitors and injecting new life into the region.
“Unless what we want is a rusted steel and concrete wreck standing in the center of our city for years to come, and unless we are ready to use millions of taxpayer dollars to knock down and then redevelop the arena from scratch, it is about time that we begin to put in the necessary investment to take this arena back to lofty standards,” Bronin said.
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