CT Lottery is aiming to land a deal for Bridgeport’s sports betting site

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BRIDGEPORT — Unable to strike a deal with the new amphitheater, the Connecticut Lottery Corporation is in talks with another unnamed venue — likely the entertainment arena next door — to house the betting retail site promised the city when lawmakers legalized sports betting last year.

“We’re still moving aggressively in Bridgeport because we understand the importance there,” Andrew Walter, director of business and legal affairs for sports betting at the Rocky Hill-based lottery, said late this week.

In an interview last December, Walter’s stated goal was to open a betting site in Bridgeport “in the first half of 2022,” and he confirmed three interesting sites: The Hartford Healthcare Amphitheater, which opened last July; the entertainment and sports arena Total Mortgage next door; and the redevelopment of Steelpointe, which already houses Bass Pro Shops, a new marina and the Boca Oyster Bar.

All are prime locations adjacent to downtown, the harbor and Interstate 95.

Walter said this week that there was a delay because the lottery “went out from an entity that we thought we were moving forward with and that didn’t happen for various reasons.

“We sort of … started the search over and plan to move on with another party now,” Walter said. “We’re still evaluating a few things.”

He declined to name the original location or the new one.

But Howard Saffan, developer of the privately managed, community-owned amphitheater, said the building was originally intended to house the new sports betting site.

“We have entered into discussions with the Connecticut Lottery. We thought we had a deal with them. And then, at the last moment, the deal changed economically and it made no sense for us to go any further,” Saffan said this week. “In my opinion, their intention was to approach the arena to take advantage of their space.”

“We’ve definitely spoken to them,” Walter said of Saffan and the amphitheater, adding of the arena, “They’re another entity that we’ve had conversations with.”

In a statement, arena officials — the facility is owned and leased by Bridgeport Islanders Hockey Team — said, “We continue to work with the Connecticut Lottery to find compelling and exciting opportunities here. … No agreement has yet been reached and we look forward to further talks with everyone involved.”

State Assemblyman Antonio Felipe, D-Bridgeport, who represents downtown, said he understands that the amphitheater and the arena “were always the two places that were most prominent in these[the lottery]conversations.”

“I think that the arena has some advantages of being there – namely the sporting events that we have there from time to time,” said Felipe.

In addition to the Islanders’ home games, the arena has hosted Fairfield University men’s and women’s basketball, Sacred Heart University hockey and, last March, the University of Connecticut women’s Final Four.

Felipe added he is eager for the lottery to open its Bridgeport location to benefit the local and state economy.

“The sooner we get that revenue, the better,” he said.

After failing to bring a casino to Bridgeport for the last few decades, officials here have focused on making sure at least one of the state’s 15 licensed sportsbooks opens locally.

Walter had outlined in December the three business models the Lottery may consider for these sites: Bobby V’s restaurant/sports bar-style entertainment destinations; other types of restaurants/local sports bars; and no-frills in-and-out retailers where fans heading home from work on Fridays can place a quick bet for the weekend.

Commenting on the Bridgeport opening, Walter said, “Bridgeport is only a major city in the state, so we want to do something there to maximize sports betting retail sales. … I don’t see it as the place of comings and goings.”

Walter said this week the approach hasn’t changed.

“The goal there is to do something more than just a sports bar,” he said. “Just finding the ideal partner to move forward with takes a little longer than I might have wished.”

He wouldn’t commit to a revised schedule, but did note that news about Bridgeport and other sports betting sites could potentially be announced in the coming weeks. He also stressed the need to fix them, not just open them to do so.

“I have a number of projects that are in a similar state that’s close but not there yet,” he said.

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