Casino Night has been canceled — again.
In a repeat of last week’s crackdown on Morse and Ezra Stiles colleges’ annual Casino Night, graduate students have been forced to revamp their own version of the soiree scheduled for tonight. Both events were casualties of a 2003 state law, the Act to Repeal Las Vegas Night Games, which was passed to halt the expansion of Indian casinos but has ended up crippling charitable gaming. And while state officials are floating legislation that would allow nonprofits to hold some money wheel games, the overall ban on Casino Night-type events will stay in effect, a spokesman for the Connecticut Division of Special Revenue, Paul Bernstein, said Wednesday.
The graduate Casino Night, now in its fourth year, normally attracts about 200 attendees, whose entrance fees go to charity, graduate student organizers said. But this year, just like Yale undergraduates, graduate students will not be able to play table games like craps, roulette, poker and blackjack — lest organizers face the wrath of the state of Connecticut.
Organizer Patricia Maloney GRD ’12 said the ex-Casino Night would feature hourly raffles, but no mock gambling. That was called off after Maloney took the news of the undergraduate Casino Night’s cancellation to graduate school officials, who consulted with the University’s Office of the General Counsel and decided to modify the event.
“Everything is happening so quickly now that we’re still trying to figure out which end is up,” Maloney said.
Maloney isn’t the only one reeling from Connecticut’s ban on casino-type games and equipment. Since the act was passed in January 2003, nonprofit organizations that had previously been able to hold “Las Vegas Nights” under a 1972 statute in order to raise money for charity — not to mention Yalies just looking for a good time — have seen their attempts to hold those events blocked again and again.
Even officials at the DSR, the state’s equivalent of a gaming commission, are frustrated.
“Our ability to approve the use of money wheels and merchandise prize wheels was repealed, and that hurt a number of organizations,” Bernstein said. “It’s frustrating.”
As it turns out, the law was passed not to interfere with charity fundraisers and college parties but with Indian tribes attempting to open more casinos in the state, according to the department.
“While the tribes are very successful in their casino operations … the political leaders of the state have always been uneasy with gambling,” Bernstein said, describing the perpetually tense relationship between two of Connecticut’s most formidable groups.
Indian tribes in Connecticut currently operate two of the world’s largest casinos, Foxwoods in Ledyard and Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, both billion-dollar operations that generate $400 million in revenue per year and employ more than 20,000. But Gov. M. Jodi Rell and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73, as well as many community leaders and state legislators, are all strongly opposed to casino expansion.
In late 2002, Blumenthal explained in a phone interview, the Eastern Pequots had already gained federal recognition before the Bureau of Indian Affairs, while at least eight more tribes were applying for recognition. Once they gained it, Connecticut’s once-obscure “Las Vegas Nights” statute would have allowed them to develop casinos, he said.
Blumenthal appealed the bureau’s recognition of the Eastern Pequots as well as of another group, the Schaghticokes. The state finally succeeded in overturning the recognitions in 2005, over opposition from tribes throughout Connecticut, even those who operate the existing casinos.
“Gambling is not a right,” Blumenthal said, repeating a mantra he has championed for years.
But state officials’ anti-gambling stance goes against the expansion of gambling nationwide, said Ian Pulsipher, a policy associate for the National Conference of State Legislatures. Only Utah and Hawaii have a blanket ban on gambling, and most states allow charitable gaming, he said.
“Generally, the trend since Atlantic City [opened] has been to expand gambling,” Pulsipher said. “Larger societal views towards gambling … have changed a lot in the last 40 years.”
Not only is Connecticut’s law unique, it is useless for prohibiting new casinos, said I. Nelson Rose, a law professor at Whittier Law School in Costa Mesa, Calif., and an expert on gambling law, who called the 2003 repeal “nonsense.” Rose believes the repeal came too late because two tribes already operate casinos here, so if another tribe gains federal recognition, it should be able to open one. The law only works because the state has refused to negotiate new compacts with tribes and has successfully challenged all federal recognitions, he said.
Concerns about Indian casinos aside, nonprofit organizations still have no way of holding charitable gaming events other than bingo games and raffles. Bernstein said the DSR has submitted legislation to the governor’s office that would allow nonprofits to hold money wheel events without using a Las Vegas-type money wheel.
Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, Democrat of New Haven and a sponsor of the 2003 repeal, said he would support easing restrictions on nonprofits.
“Many of our state’s churches and civic groups use ‘casino nights’ as a way to raise money, and I know they would like to be able to run them again,” he said in a telephone interview Wednesday, referring to the changes being floated by the DSR.
The small exceptions being floated by the DSR would probably not allow Yale’s Casino Nights to return, however, as casino table games would still be illegal, Bernstein said.