Don’t get distracted, stick with East Windsor casino plan

Is this legislature capable of setting a course and sticking with it?

In the 2017 session, the General Assembly authorized construction of a casino in East Windsor. Jointly operating it would be an enterprise created by the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes, owners and operators of the Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort casinos.

The tribes proposed the $300 million casino in response to the $960 million resort casino MGM Resorts International will soon open a dozen miles to the north in Springfield, Mass.

The plan would keep more patrons from the Greater Hartford area spending their gambling and entertainment dollars in Connecticut. While the two tribal casinos operating here in southeastern Connecticut would still suffer some loss of business, the East Windsor casino would mitigate the impact on the tribal operations and that would protect jobs.

It also would assure that Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods will continue sending dollars to the state. Under their compact with the state that allows them to offer slot machines, 25 percent of the slot revenue goes to the state, about $250 million this year. The legislation approving the East Windsor casino requires 25 percent of all gaming revenue from that facility be turned over to the state.

MGM hates this idea, of course, because it will disrupt its plans to siphon off casino patrons from Connecticut who had previously spent their gaming and entertainment dollars at the tribal casinos. Unsurprisingly, the Las-Vegas based company is doing all it can to delay and ultimately block the planned casino in East Windsor.

Unfortunately, some lawmakers appear ready to play into MGM’s hands.

A group of House Democrats has introduced legislation to revoke authorization for the East Windsor casino and undertake a competitive bid process for selecting a third state casino.

Such a move, if successful, would be a victory for MGM, which has sought to divide the legislature and undercut political support for the East Windsor tribal casino by contending it is interested in building a casino in Bridgeport.

There are several problems with following MGM down this primrose path.

MGM's sincerity in building a Bridgeport casino is much in question. The company has been telling investors it is not planning more casinos in the United States. MGM is asking state lawmakers to believe it would make another massive investment not terribly far from Springfield to tap a New York market already saturated.

Even if MGM is serious and wins the bidding, it is highly questionable whether there is the necessary political support to authorize a casino in Fairfield County. The last time the idea came up, in the mid-1990s, it faced significant opposition.

The minute Connecticut entertains building a non-tribal casino it places in danger the revenues flowing from the two tribal casinos, since their compact with the state provides the tribes exclusive gaming rights.

What this is really about is derailing the East Windsor casino plan or at least delaying it long enough to get MGM Springfield open and established before Connecticut’s casino operators can muster a response.

In casting doubts about the East Windsor plan, critics point to the failure of the U.S. Department of Interior to approve the state’s amended gaming compacts with the tribes, as required by last year's Connecticut legislation authorizing the casino. MGM is squarely behind the lobbying efforts to block Interior’s approval.

The Connecticut legislature could eliminate this problem by amending the legislation to remove the Department of Interior approval requirement.

MGM also contends that the side deal allowing the tribes to build a casino in East Windsor is unconstitutional because Connecticut did not give MGM the chance to compete. But MGM can’t compete for a casino in the planned area. Its gaming license with Massachusetts prohibits it, because it is too close.

Rather than changing course to pursue fool’s gold, the General Assembly should stick with last year’s decision, making amendments as necessary to get around MGM’s lobbying efforts to block the East Windsor plan.

 

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.

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