Attorney General's Opinion
Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal
June 10, 2003
Susan G. Townsley
Division of Special Revenue
555 Russell Road
Newington, Connecticut 06111
Dear Ms. Townsley:
This is in response to your request for an opinion concerning the continuing legality of the use of merchandise prize wheels at bazaars in Connecticut in the wake of the repeal of the statutes authorizing Las Vegas Nights charitable gambling and the use of money wheels at bazaars. The repealer, enacted during the January 6, 2003 Special Session in 2003 Conn. Pub. Acts (Jan. 6 Spec. Sess.) 03-1, terminated these types of gambling effective January 7, 2003.1
As described to us, merchandise prize wheels are functionally equivalent to money wheels, which were specifically eliminated in Pub. Act (Jan. 6 Spec. Sess.) No. 03-1 § 4. They operate in exactly the same fashion, with bets placed in a similar way. Both are wheels hung vertically, which can be spun on an axle and slowly stopped by a flapper at the top striking protruding pins. Merchandise prize wheels typically have 32 to 40 winning spaces between pins, and prizes are awarded in merchandise of varying value. Money wheels typically have 6 winning spaces between pins, repeated in the wheel, and prizes are awarded in cash of varying amounts. Both wheels are classified as Class III gaming permitted at the Indian casinos in Connecticut. See Procedures, Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, and Compact, Mohegan Tribe, Sec. 3(a)(i)(D) and 3(a)(ii).
There is no specific statutory authorization for merchandise prize wheels, as there was for money wheels, although the statute authorizing bazaars generally allows the disposition of merchandise awards by means of chance. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 7-170. The State, in practice, has allowed merchandise prize wheels at bazaars and raffles since the 1950s, and the Division of Special Revenue promulgated regulations specifically allowing merchandise prize wheels at permitted functions in 1992. Regs., Conn. State Agencies, Sec. 7-185-10b(a)(2).
In assessing the scope of 2003 Conn. Pub. Acts (Jan. 6 Spec. Sess.) 03-01, both explicit and implicit, we are guided by the rule of statutory construction which emphasizes an open-minded search for the meaning of legislative action in a reasoned manner. "In seeking to determine that meaning, we look to the words of the statute itself, to the legislative history and circumstances surrounding its enactment, to the legislative policy it was designed to implement, and to its relationship to existing legislation and common law principles governing the same general subject matter." State v. Courchesne, 262 Conn. 537, 577, 816 A.2d 562 (2003) (Citation and internal quotation marks omitted).
The repeal of Las Vegas Nights charitable gambling and money wheels was expressly aimed at eliminating certain types of gaming2 in the state because this gaming had been found to be the key for the allowance of full-scale Indian casino gaming in Connecticut under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). That federal law allows federally recognized Indian tribes to negotiate for certain types of gaming permitted in the state in which they are located. In particular, IGRA provides that tribes may negotiate for Class III gaming (which includes casino-type gaming) on Indian lands only if the activity is "located in a State that permits such gaming for any purpose by any person, organization or entity…" 25 U.S.C. § 2710(d)(1)(B) (Emphasis added). In Mashantucket Pequot Tribe v. State of Connecticut, 913 F.2d 1024, 1029 (2nd Cir. 1990) cert. denied 499 U.S. 975 (1991), the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit interpreted this "such gaming" provision of the IGRA broadly to find that Connecticut's Las Vegas Nights statutes, which allowed certain non-profit charitable organizations to operate a limited number of Las Vegas Nights with non-monetary prizes, opened the door for negotiation over full-blown, around-the-clock casino gaming by Indian tribes. Although other courts have interpreted this "such gaming" provision more narrowly, (see, e.g., Rumsey Indian Ranchiera of Wintun Indians v. Wilson, 41 F.3d 421 (9th Cir. 1994), amended 64 F.3d 1250 amended 99 F.3d 321, cert. denied 521 U.S. 1118 (1997)), we are bound by the Second Circuit's decision until the issue is finally resolved by the United States Supreme Court.
By repealing the statutes authorizing Las Vegas Nights charitable gambling and money wheels, the legislature unequivocally sought to eliminate this linchpin for the Second Circuit's decision. The continued allowance of gambling with merchandise prize wheels undermines this purpose because there is no significant distinction, legal or practical, that can be made between merchandise prize wheels and money wheels - - the wheels operate in the same manner, the betting is done in a similar way, and the value of the winnings may be similar. If the state allows gambling with merchandise prize wheels by any group, the broad interpretation given to IGRA by the Second Circuit in Mashantucket Pequot Tribe v. State of Connecticut could allow a future Indian tribe to claim that the operation of merchandise prize wheels opens the door for negotiation for the operation of money wheels or roulette wheels, and possibly other types of casino gaming. We must give a broad reading to the legislative effort to close the door on all “such gaming” that would facilitate negotiation over casino gaming.
The statutory authorization for money wheels was abolished by the legislature in this past special session. "Whenever a later statute is repugnant in its provisions to those of a prior one, there is a repeal to the extent of the repugnancy…" Fair Haven & W. R. Co. v. New Haven, 75 Conn. 442, 446, 53 A. 960 (1903) (Citations Omitted); Zuk v. State, 37 Conn. Sup. 88, 89, 434 A.2d 986 (1981). The legislative action abolishing money wheels is repugnant to the continued allowance of merchandise prize wheels since they are functionally equivalent gaming devices. Thus, merchandise prize wheels must be deemed to have been outlawed by implication. Furthermore, it would be a bizarre result if a gambling device, which had been specifically authorized by statute, was declared illegal by legislative action, yet an equivalent gambling device, never specifically sanctioned by the legislature, remained lawful. It is a well established canon of statutory construction that those who promulgate statutes or rules do not intend to promulgate statutes or rules that lead to absurd or bizarre results. Commissioner of Transp. v. Kahn, 262 Conn. 257, 275, 811 A.2d 693 (2003) (citations omitted). Accordingly, we are constrained by the Second Circuit's broad interpretation of IGRA in Mashantucket Pequot Tribe v. State of Connecticut and by the Connecticut legislature's determination to outlaw games of chance which would authorize Tribes to negotiate under IGRA for additional casino gaming in Connecticut to conclude that merchandise prize wheels are not allowed in Connecticut.
In sum, merchandise prize wheels are no longer permitted gaming at bazaars. This gaming is now illegal.
Very truly yours,
Robert F. Vacchelli
Assistant Attorney General
1You also requested an opinion on the disposition of Las Vegas Nights equipment and money wheels. We will respond to those questions in a separate opinion.
2The games allowed included blackjack, poker, dice, money-wheels, roulette, baccarat, chuck-a-luck, pan, over and under, horse race, acey-ducey, beat the dealer, bouncing ball and others. Reg. Sec. 7-186k-15. Generally, only four permits per year were allowed, and no money wagers were allowed. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 7-186c(a), (c). Prizes were limited to merchandise or goods. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 7-186d