Oh, Connecticut – So influential and important in the colonial times, so obscure today. As a major market, Hartford has seen its window to host big-league sports franchises come and go. Briefly home to an NFL team, the city’s beloved WHA/NHL Whalers departed for the Carolinas (!) in 1997 to shut said window probably permanently … unless one includes the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun…
Betting in Connecticut
For the first 200 years of the state’s existence, Connecticut law toward betting games was pretty much 100% in lockstep with the American legal norms at the time. The steps made in decriminalizing/legalizing/establishing gambling of various sorts were totally typical: In the 1930s, pari-mutuel racing was introduced in Connecticut; the state lottery was born in 1983 – after about a decade of citizenry hopping the border to pick up high-paying Massachusetts State Lottery tickets.
But in the 1990s, everything changed in the Connecticut betting world. Sure, the passage of the federal Indian Gaming Regulation Act (IGRA) in ’88 was huge in many states, but morphed a single Connecticut bingo hall into New England’s mecca for casino gambling for the next two decades.
After IGRA’s passage, a little place on Mashantucket Pequot reservation land called the Foxwoods Bingo Hall – opened ahead of the national curve in 1986 – was ready to take advantage of the new opportunities inherent in the law. Regulatory rules such as capping the number of casinos to be based in Connecticut at two were established in ’91, with then-governor Lowell P. Weicker Jr. (great governor name) and Pequot representatives signing on the line which is dotted later in the year.
Backed by Las Vegas-based investors, the Foxwoods Casino Hotel and the Mohegan Sun were full-scale casino operations with at least 1,000 slot machines and 100 table games in 1992(!) and ’96, respectively. They built ’em, and whoa did people come – regularly. From all over New England, New York City and New York state. AS of 2016, these operations for 20 years running in terms of size, draw and profit, were the nos. 1 and 2 hotel casinos east of the Mississippi in all of North America.
And in the mid-2010s, another certain New England state is looking to bring that betting money its way. In response to the potential of Boston- and/or Massachusetts-based casinos, Connecticut’s Pequot and Mohegan casino owner/operators have agreed to establish a third operation north in the state off the I-95 highway – all the better to divert traffic…
Football in Connecticut
As alluded to above, Connecticut’s major city Hartford has had its day in the sun (so to speak). While the professional football explosion precipitated by the formation of the NFL 1920 was particulary strong in the Midwest, Pennsylvania and New York, the New England region was tested on a few occasions before inexplicably disappearing altogether between 1949 and the formation of the AFL in ’60. Boston had the Bulldogs for one season (1929) and the Yanks from 1944 to ’48; Providence was home to the mighty Steamroller of 1925 to ’31. As for Connecticut, they had the 1926 Hartford Blues.
The Blues actually began play as an independent side based in Waterbury. Local boxing promoter George Mulligan established the club in late 1924 and put together a 7-2-4 mark. That offseason, Mulligan immediately got to work at loading up the Blues with Notre Dame and Holy Cross alums, spearheaded by QB Harry Stuhldreher and back Jim Crowley. Heck, by the end of the ’25 season and with the new “Hartford Blues” identity in place, Mulligan had signed all the ’Horsemen, plus the top Boston College alum, plus a handful of NFL all-stars. The team went 10-2 for the season, including two wins over the NFL’s Rochester Jeffersons.
And so in 1926, the Blues ascended to the NFL – but Stuhldreher, among others, wouldn’t be joining them there. Mulligan found himself no longer a big fish in a free-flowing pond of independent football, and his team was outdone by a combined score of 50-0 in the first four games of the season. After an exhibition-game loss to the independent All-New Britain team, the Blues forfeited the remainder of the games due to stadium conditions, weather, yadda yadda yadda, with their record at 3-8 overall for ’26.
For 1927, the NFL trimmed back its roster of teams, losing 10 of the 22 less economically viable sides, and you can bet the Blues were among those. The newly-rechristened Hartford Giants went back on the independent circuit and went 7-1 for the year before Mulligan found the attendance draws were no longer worth his continued investment. The team folded later that year.
The demise of the Blues/Giants was hardly the last gasp for professional football in Connecticut, but it’s damn close. Indeed, the biggest story about professional football in Connecticut was a non-story in the late 1990s. After a nice run during which Bill Parcells and then Pete Carroll had gotten the New England Patriots into the playoffs four times (and into one Super Bowl) between 1994 and ’98, owner Robert Kraft decided that his newly-winning team should have a shiny new stadium.
Then-governor of Connecticut John Rowland publicly announced plans in November 1998 to invest as much as $1 billion into a 70,000-seat stadium for Hartford to woo the New England Patriots (hey, no brand-name change necessary!), even claiming that Kraft had signed on the dotted line. However, by March ‘’99, the dream was already dead, thanks to an environmental report which showed the cleanup of the proposed site of a former steam plant could take up to three years. In short, Gillette Stadium would soon be on its way for the Patriots to play in and Hartford wouldn’t be getting an NFL team after all.
The Arena Football League established the Connecticut Coyotes in 1995. This team played to a 3-23 cumulative mark over two seasons, easily one of the worst two-year stretches in AFL history and a great reason why the team folded in ’96.
And for the 2010 United Football League (UFL) season, the New York Sentinels guessed they might attract more attention in Connecticut and so players suited up as the Hartford Colonials; the year previous, the Sentinels had played a “home” game at Rentschler Field. As for results in the rogue league, well, Wikipedia dryly informs that the Sentinels/Colonials “were historically the worst of the UFL’s five teams, having a combined record of 3-11 and finishing in last place in both seasons. They hold the dubious distinction of accumulating in 2009 the league’s only winless record.”
(Of course, the positive spin here is that, at 3-5, the 2010 Hartford Colonials achieved the best single-season record by a league-affiliated Connecticut pro football team.)
The story is a bit happier on the college level of Connecticut football, but again are the glory days mostly in the past. The top college football team in Connecticut, historically speaking, is of course the Yale Bulldogs. Going into the 2018 season, the Ivy League boys have run up 890 wins since first playing the game in 1872 – that’s second-most only to the Michigan Wolverines in NCAA history. The Bulldogs have won a ridiculous 26 national championships, though the last of these came in 1927.
To say that college football has changed much in the 90-plus years since would be an insane understatement, but on the Division I-AA/FCS level, the Bulldogs remain a force to be reckoned with: Yale may claim 15 Ivy League championships since 1956, with the last won after the 2017 season.
Connecticut’s FBS team is the U. Conn. Huskies. The Huskies began play back in 1896, but were considered little more than a second-division regional program right through the reformation of the New England Conference into the Yankee Conference in the late 1940s and beyond. By 1997, the Huskies were offered a move up to the Division I-A/FCS level and the school made the appropriate changes; in 2004, UConn became the first-ever school to have its football program bumped from the FCS to the BCS. The Huskies played in their first BCS bowl game, topping the Toledo Rockets, 39-10, in the 2004 Motor City Bowl.
Betting on Football in Connecticut
Anyone who’s been to a Las Vegas-style Native American-run casino in the U.S. knows that, while the operation may offer better of all sorts up to and including poker – but no sports, not even football betting.
The spread of betting games in Connecticut even in the online realm is “inevitable,” according to state governor Dan Malloy (who will serve through 2018 but not seek reelection). In 2013, the state legislature passed a law allowing for legal keno games outside of casino locations and the Connecticut Off-Track Betting shops opened for business.
Just as Connecticut’s Native American casino interests are spending the late 2010s reacting to the glacial decision-making in Massachusetts legislatures, Connecticut state lawmakers are playing wait-and-see with New Jersey vis-à-vis intrastate online betting on football and other sports. Tell you what, though: Connecticut may have the single best test case for in-game sports betting, one option that the NBA brain trust is particularly keen on: the Connecticut Sun, who literally play their games on the Mohegan Sun casino resort grounds.
As for daily fantasy football betting, as of 2018, it’s legal within state borders. Regulatory framework for DFS operators is in the legislative process and is expected to be in place by ’19 – get ready to start paying taxes, Draft Duel and Fan Kings; players, get ready to pay higher vigs…