Attorney General's Opinion
Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal
April 18, 2000
Honorable Kevin B. Sullivan
Senate President Pro Tempore
Legislative Office Building
Hartford, CT 06106
Honorable Moira K. Lyons
Speaker of the House
Leglislative Office Building
Hartford, CT 06106
Dear President Pro Temp. Sullivan and Speaker Lyons:
This is in response to the letter from Representative Shawn T. Johnston dated February 4, 2000, inquiring whether the Governor can enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Veterans Memorial Casino Organization to allow it to operate high stakes bingo1 in Connecticut. It is our opinion that the Governor does not have the authority to enter into such an agreement because the General Statutes directly prohibit the proposed activity. Nevertheless, the organization could conduct bingo for charitable fund raising, if it qualifies for a permit from the Connecticut Division of Special Revenue.
A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is an agreement in the nature of a contract. The Governor has the power to enter into such an agreement only for matters within his authority to enforce the laws, and not for matters that usurp traditional powers reserved to the legislature, such as the enactment of new laws or the amendment of existing laws. See 1993 Conn. Op. Atty. Gen. (February 11, 1993) (attached). Thus, in the context of your question, the Governor has the power to enter into such a MOU only to the extent that it is authorized under the existing law.
Representative Johnston's letter indicates that the organization seeks to operate high stakes bingo games in Connecticut with the stated laudatory goal of providing aid and assistance to veterans and seniors in Connecticut. Gambling in Connecticut is controlled by strict laws, and any gambling which is conducted contrary to law is a criminal offense. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53-278a et. seq. In the instant case, the only pertinent authorization for allowing bingo games in Connecticut is Conn. Gen. Stat. § 7-169(d) which provides, "No bingo game shall be promoted, operated or played unless the same is sponsored and conducted exclusively by ..." a qualified organization which has been issued a permit by the Division of Special Revenue. The sponsoring organization must be a charitable, educational, fraternal, veterans' or religious organization, volunteer fire department or grange organized for not less than two years. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 7-169(d). Additionally, prize size is limited according to a published schedule. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 7-169(i). The MOU suggested in your question, however, would allow gaming without the permit required by state statute and would authorize prizes never permitted by the legislature. Such an action would be contrary to the existing statutory permit process and, thus, would be unauthorized and illegal.2
For all of the above stated reasons, we believe that the Governor cannot enter into a MOU with the Veterans Memorial Casino Organization authorizing it to operate high stakes bingo in Connecticut. The organization may, however, conduct bingo for charitable fundraising purposes if it applies and qualifies for a permit from the Connecticut Division of Special Revenue and operates in accordance with the appropriate statutory requirements. The Charitable Games Section of the Division of Special Revenue can assist organizations in preparing applications for qualified organizations, explaining the applicable rules, and providing guidance in running a lawful bingo game.
Very truly yours,
Robert F. Vacchelli
Assistant Attorney General
pc: Representative Shawn T. Johnston
1 High stakes bingo is not defined in your letter, but we assume it refers to bingo games offering prizes which exceed limits established by state law in Conn. Gen. Stat. § 7-169(i).
2 Federally recognized tribes may conduct gaming activities in their federal reservations in accordance with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). 25 U.S.C. § 2701 et. seq. IGRA does not apply to other groups and, therefore, is inapplicable to the question posed here.