State Could Lose If Restaurant Poker Legalized

If Connecticut legalizes Texas Hold 'Em poker and other card games in restaurants and bars as proposed by one legislator, the Mohegan Sun will withhold the state's share of slot machine revenue, a spokesman for the Uncasville-based casino said Monday.

That would be a loss of more than $400 million a year. Texas Hold 'Em games have been a popular draw in some area bars and restaurants, including Eli's on Whitney in Hamden. Though the business owners don't derive any profit from the poker games, they do make money from the food and beverages poker players consume.

Last year, however, Eli's on Whitney had to stop hosting the games after receiving a cease-and-desist order from Attorney General Richard Blumenthal's office. The order said the games violated the state's gambling laws. Other establishments in the area, such as Knickerbocker's and Bennigan's in Milford and Harborside restaurant in Stratford, continue to host weekly poker games, though the police in those two communities are waiting on word about their legality.

Last week, State Rep. Brian O'Connor, D-Clinton, who is proposing the games be legalized in restaurants and bars, said he thinks poker tournaments would be good for the economy, providing a boost to restaurants that have complained of declining revenues.

O'Connor's proposed bill, titled "An act allowing restaurants and bars to hold poker and other card tournaments," calls for the state's general statutes to be amended to allow the practice, " long as no profit is made off such tournaments by participants or the restaurant or bar."

The purpose of the action, according to O'Connor's proposed bill, is "to improve the business climate of restaurants and allow individuals to interact with others who enjoy card games."

The Mohegan tribe is watching the legislation, having determined that "it would be a clear violation of the state's agreement" with the tribes that run Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods casinos, according to Chuck Bunnell, chief of staff for the Mohegan tribe.

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