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State approves online wagering on horse races

The state Department of Consumer Protection (DCP) approved a request Dec. 11 by Sportech Venues Inc. to market an online platform for betting on horse races to Connecticut residents 18 and older.

However, Malloy administration officials said last week that the approval does not signal an end to a statewide prohibition on online gambling.

Sportech, headquartered in New Haven, operates Winners, a chain of 15 off-track betting facilities in Connecticut, including locations in Norwalk, Bridgeport, Milford and New Haven.

The company is a division of London-based Sportech Plc.

As the only company licensed by the DCP to conduct off-track betting in Connecticut on horse racing, greyhound racing and jai alai, Sportech previously was licensed to take bets over the phone.

Sportech, a publicly traded company, said the online platform represents an enhancement to the company’s existing phone wagering system and expects to launch it by April 2013.

William M. Rubenstein, commissioner of the DCP, said his department’s approval of Sportech’s online wagering platform “is not a policy shift; it’s just the addition of a new technology.”

Rubenstein said the current regulations on off-track betting “permit betting by telephone, and we have extended that to include technologies that are available through the Internet. … Current statute and regulations permit that, so there’s no change.”

Andrew Doba, director of communications for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, said the governor is not looking to expand Internet gaming.

“It’s not something he’s looking to pursue,” Doba said. “This is really a technological modification more than anything.”

Asked whether Malloy would expand online gambling in Connecticut as a means of shoring up state revenues, Doba said a loosening of online gaming rules is not under consideration.

Through its 15 venues and telephone service, Sportech handled about $184 million in horse racing wagers during the state’s 2011 fiscal year, which ran through June 30, 2011, according to DCP data.

That represents a falloff compared with previous years, DCP data show. In the state’s 2010 fiscal year, Sportech handled slightly less than $191 million in wagers, and in the 2009 fiscal year, the company handled more than $205 million in wagers.

Of the $205 million in off-track wagers handled by Sportech during the state’s 2009 fiscal year, the state collected about $4.2 million or 2 percent of all wagers in revenues, while municipalities that were home to Sportech venues collected about $3.4 million, or 1.7 percent, in revenues.

Data on state revenues from off-track betting is not available for subsequent years.

Despite being licensed to conduct wagering on greyhound races and jai alai, Sportech has not conducted any greyhound wagering activities in Connecticut since the state’s 2006 fiscal year or any jai alai wagering activities in Connecticut since the 2002 fiscal year.

Jennifer Conning, a spokeswoman for Sportech, said the company views the addition of an online off-track betting platform in Connecticut as “a positive,” but declined to speculate on how the change could impact the company’s revenues.

“We view it as a positive for customer service and usually, if you provide better customer service you should see improved results … but we’re not putting any figures on it at this time,” Conning said.

She said Sportech already has the technology to implement a web-based off-track betting platform, adding that now it is a matter of customizing its existing platform for its Winners chain.

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Patrick Gallagher

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