Joseph Rizzuto, 44, is the latter. Wearing sunglasses with heart-shaped lenses atop his head and a black hoodie with camouflage arms, he came barreling toward the betting terminals at 11 a.m., yelling “Is this legit?”
Eyes wide, he continued, “It is!” He clapped emphatically. He took a knee and pumped his fists, yanked his arms as if starting a lawnmower, wheeled them as if playing a guitar. He celebrated like he had just hit a seven-team parlay for life-changing money and he hadn’t yet considered a point spread.
“Stoked!” he yelled. “Stoked!”
Legalized sports betting was introduced the way most things involving big business and politics are typically introduced. Loudly, with invited guests, rehearsed speeches. Yet once the sportsbook was active, simply there as an option in the state’s southeast corner, on display were those interested in making favorites and underdogs part of their gaming experience, whatever role that plays in their lives.
No more calling bookies. No more crossing state lines. No more offshore accounts. None of that necessary, anyway, as Connecticut became the latest state to offer and regulate sports wagering, thereby opening floodgates to a new revenue streams as the state and two of its significant partners — the tribes and their casino properties — look to make up financial ground lost during the pandemic.
“It’s been a long time coming, probably going back 10 years,” Lamont said. “Not everybody was betting we were going to get this over the finish line, but I was and you were. We got it done. It’s long overdue.”
Weekday mornings are not traditionally bustling times for casinos and Thursday was no different, despite the new attraction. While the passage of time and particular events will surely draw crowds, the first few hours of operation were rather sterile, as far as casinos go.
People milled about, many slowing to look at the new scene the way one would slow for a look at the animal in the next exhibit at the zoo. Others stared, mesmerized, at gigantic boards displaying matchups and odds above the four betting windows. And a few got right down to business, spending considerable time scrolling through options at one of about 50 betting kiosks before walking away while tucking betting slips into their wallets.
“I took the day off work to be here and take a look,” said one man, a Connecticut resident probably in his 40s, who declined to give his name. “When I go to Vegas for vacation, one of the things I look forward to is sitting and watching a game and having not a lot of money, but enough money, on it to make it interesting. Once this gets going for a while, I can say I was one of the first people in Connecticut to place bets legally.”
This man made 13 bets, totaling about $200. Two other men declined to be interviewed while leaving the wagering area, and another jokingly referred to himself as a “degenerate [bleep]” as he conversed with Mohegan employees. The man was interested, mostly, in when odds sheets were going to be available. He was told they were being printed.
“Nice!” he said. “So just come back, or? About an hour, yeah? Yes!”
He clapped. And clapped and clapped.
Rizzuto, too, was interested in betting sheets. Within a week or two, bettors will have an online wagering option, with Mohegan partnering with FanDuel and Foxwoods partnership with DraftKings. Gambling through an app and from afar will likely be enticing to a large faction of state bettors.
It is not to Rizzuto and gamblers of a certain ilk, those used to the crumpling of paper, the cashing in of tickets, the crunching of numbers on site, the emotional and financial ebb and flow it is to wager, on site, as if on the job.
“Listen, dude,” Rizzuto said. “I’m ecstatic.”
Rizzuto grew up in Rocky Hill and moved to Las Vegas in 1999 at age 21 — with $4,000 in cash and suitcase full of belongings — to pursue his dream of being a handicapper. He remained there over the years and moved back to Connecticut a few weeks ago.
“This is all I do,” Rizzuto said. “I’m a handicapper. This is the whole reason I’m back here, because I can now live with my family and do what I did in Vegas, which is legally move money betting sports and know I’m going to get paid when I win.
“The best part is, we can buy the ticket. I have a father in his 70s and we’ve got a lot of friends who gamble. I don’t want to download apps and go through technology. I want to come in, put a couple grand down, whatever I’m betting, and I want to see the ticket. I’m going to leave with it and when I win I’m going to come back in and cash it. I don’t want to worry about stuff getting lost on the computer, Internet, Apple or … jeez, where you can’t get a line and it freezes for an hour.”
Connecticut will cash in on this venture. The state will tax sports betting at 13.75 percent, and online casino gaming even higher, and is guaranteed hundreds of millions of dollars over the next 10 years through deals with the tribes and the Connecticut Lottery, the third operating arm in the equation.
“We got this passed after some negotiation in May and here we are just four months later casting the first bet,” Lamont told a crowd of maybe 150. “I think that’s faster than you’ve seen than any other state in the country, and that’s what we like to do. We like to sit down with friends, have constructive negotiations, sign a deal, move forward and get it done. We’re getting it done for the people of Connecticut.”
Lamont spoke for about two minutes before placing a $50 wager on Mohegan’s own Connecticut Sun, a 7.5-point favorite over the Chicago Sky in a WNBA playoff game to take place later Thursday.
Former NFL players Darius Butler and Wayne Chrebet, each affiliated with FanDuel, were on hand. Butler, who played at UConn before a nine-year NFL career with the Patriots, Panthers and Colts, bet on the Patriots to beat the Bucs in Tom Brady’s Sunday return to Foxborough.
“I’m confident, slightly,” Butler said. “I’m betting against Tom Brady. I’m never confident betting against Tom Brady.”
The entire scene at this point — a crowded scrum with lots of movement and few masks — was like something from the sidewalk of a movie premier, pretty glamorous. Sun president Jen Rizzotti was around. A stage was set up for TV news crews and their cameras. There was the ribbon cutting, and then Lamont’s wager.
“Money in the bank,” he said, holding his ticket and turning back to the crowd.
Soon, this was all gone. Back to the normal scene and the normal casino people, who now have infinite options on the sports wagering front — point spreads, money lines, futures, team over/unders, individual over/unders, props, parlays, teasers, you name it.
The construction of Mohegan’s permanent sportsbook is expected to be completed by late-January. It will be an 11,000 square-foot facility to house an operation that will create 100 jobs and numerous others in areas of support. There will be a 140-foot video wall, lounge seating, VIP areas, bar, restaurant, the works.
Others just need a window, a betting slip and little else.
Rizzuto, still waiting for an odds sheet, called his father, Anthony.
“Dad, it’s legit,” he said excitedly, pacing in circles and describing the sportsbook scene. “It’s the real deal. Did you go to the bank?”
This content was originally published here.