State's best bet remains tribal gaming

When it comes to the potential expansion of gaming, the state’s best bet remains with the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes.

MGM Resorts International is desperate to upend tribal control of casino gaming in Connecticut. The legislature’s decision to authorize a commercial casino in East Windsor, jointly operated by the tribes who run the Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort casinos, was terrible news for MGM.

By keeping more patrons from the Greater Hartford area spending their gambling and entertainment dollars in Connecticut, it will detract from the revenue MGM hoped to generate from its soon to open resort casino in Springfield, Mass. This explains why MGM pulled some political strings to try to block the federal approval necessary to move the East Windsor project forward.

It is also why MGM keeps dangling in front of state lawmakers the prospects of it constructing a casino in Bridgeport to tap into the New York City market. A pre-condition, certainly, would be pulling the plug on the East Windsor plans.

This past week Rodney Butler and Kevin Brown, chairman of the Mashantucket and Mohegan tribes, respectively, wrote to state officials to express their interest in Bridgeport. Recall that when the tribes first proposed a reaction to the pending competition coming from Massachusetts, they suggested building a casino, or two, in southwest Connecticut.

Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods are large, established employers in the state and drive visitors here. 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.

If the Connecticut legislature allows another casino in the state, all that revenue disappears.

Some are suggesting a sort of grand bargain, perhaps allowing MGM to open its casino in Bridgeport in return for the tribal casinos having to send less of their slot revenues to the state.

It is hard to imagine a path to a deal, however. This appears to be a zero-sum game, with a winner and loser.

By largely choking off most of the gaming business coming from the New York-area market, a Bridgeport casino will lower attendance and revenues for the Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods resorts. If plans are lost for the East Windsor casino as well, the impact will be that much more devastating for tribal gaming.

It is hard to imagine any deal sweet enough for the tribes to accept that and still keep sending any revenue to Connecticut.

A more likely scenario is that if the tribes participate in competition for a Bridgeport-area casino, its proposal will win out, at least if its value is viewed holistically by the state. A tribal casino expansion to north central and southwestern Connecticut will keep the resulting business revenues circulating largely in Connecticut, either through direct payments to the state or by seeding the state economy — as opposed to being shipped off to MGM Resorts International corporate.

Even a tribal casino in Bridgeport would be bad news for southeastern Connecticut because of its negative impact on the local casinos. But if one is to be developed, working with the tribes is the state’s best option.

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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