State lawmakers float plan for pari-mutuel video gaming

Hartford — A day after the House passed a budget that includes state-run keno, legislators from Bridgeport, New Haven, West Haven and Windsor Locks held a press conference Monday raising the possibility of video gaming at three pari-mutuel establishments.

Under their proposal, a task force would look at adding video slot machines to Shoreline Star in Bridgeport, Sports Haven in New Haven and Bradley Tele-Theater in Windsor Locks. Video gambling is offered only at the two Indian casinos.

"This is about a very discrete, potential expansion of three establishments in the state," said state Rep. Roland Lemar, D-New Haven.

Chuck Bunnell, the Mohegan Tribe's chief of staff, said the state would have to negotiate with the Mohegans and Mashantuckets for video gaming to be added at these facilities.

"While we certainly understand the desire of the legislators who held the press conference to protect their districts and recognize that gaming can be a good economic tool for job creation, we do believe that taking slot machines or video display terminals off the reservation is a clear violation of the compact and would require deep discussions between the tribes and the governor's office," he said.

He added that the tribe would be against video gaming in Windsor Locks, which would compete with a casino that Mohegan Sun has proposed for Palmer, Mass.

Mashantucket Tribal Chairman Rodney Butler said the tribe has a mutually beneficial slot agreement with the state of Connecticut that this proposal would violate if considered.

At the press conference, the legislators said they have asked House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, to put together a task force and that there is support from House leadership. Sen. Andres Ayala, D-Bridgeport, said no legislation would be needed to create the task force. Rep. Peggy Sayers, D-Windsor Locks, said revenue from the expansion could be generated as soon as the coming two-year biennium.

The legislators said the expansion of video gaming is needed to increase jobs and revenue at a time when the state's slot revenue is declining and casinos are being proposed in nearby states.

"What we do know is we will likely see a job loss, revenue loss, tourism loss in our state with the expansion of facilities outside of Connecticut so we do want to move forward as a state proactively," Lemar said. "We should establish this very small task force to see what we need to do, how we can protect an industry that exists here in Connecticut."

Jim Amann, lobbyist for Shoreline Star, said 7,500 video slot machines at the three proposed gaming establishments would produce $200 million to $260 million in revenue that would be split among the state, the municipalities, the gaming establishment and the tribes. He said he expected about 200 to 300 more jobs at each establishment.

When asked whether he had spoken with the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes, he said conversations about expanding the video slot machines had been ongoing.

"We have not had discussions with this group," Bunnell said of the legislators.

The state budget passed by the House and Senate included revenue from state-run keno, which has been the exclusive domain of the tribally owned casinos, Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods. The state would pay the tribes 12.5 percent of the gross revenue.

Mohegan tribal leaders are "comfortable with" the 12.5 percent, Bunnell said, and an agreement is possible without opening the compact.

Butler said 20 years ago the tribe and the state reached a historic agreement that was known as the Pequot Fund. He said the fund was a collaboration of two sovereign governments coming together for the common good of both governments.

To date this fund has generated almost 3.5 billion dollars that are used to benefit the 169 towns throughout Connecticut, he added.

"Because of this successful partnership with the state and the collaborative relationship with Governor Malloy's administration, we felt it was in the best interest of all to pursue a similar agreement with Keno," said Butler.

Groups who are opposed to the expansion of gambling showed up at the press conference to express their concern.

"We feel thrown under the bus," said Mary Drexler, executive director of the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling. "No one has looked at the social cost."

She said there was also no guarantee that expanding the video slot machines would aid the state in the long run.

Sayers, the Windsor Locks Democrat, said she was also concerned about the social repercussions and Lemar said he would want all concerned parties to be involved in the discussions.

j.somers@theday.com

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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