Anti-casino coalition writes up opposition to legislative proposal

An anti-casino group has staged what amounts to a letter-writing campaign against proposed legislation that would open up bidding for a commercial casino in the state and repeal authorization for the casino the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes are poised to build in East Windsor.

As of Tuesday, 19 members of the Coalition Against Casino Expansion in Connecticut, which comprises 14 mostly faith-based organizations, had submitted written testimony to the legislature’s Public Safety and Security Committee, which will conduct a public hearing on a number of gambling-related bills.

The hearing, postponed twice because of snowstorms, is set for 10 a.m. Thursday in Room 2B of the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.

In their testimony, the CACE members oppose House Bill 5305, the casino-expansion proposal, and support House Bill 5306, which calls for a comprehensive study of the social and economic impacts of state-sanctioned gambling, including casinos, the Connecticut Lottery Corp., off-track betting and charitable gaming.

Several backers of the casino-expansion bill also have filed written testimony. They include Karen DelVecchio, executive director of the Bridgeport Chamber of Commerce; state Rep. Juan Candelaria, a New Haven Democrat; and Richard Velky, chief of the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation.

Robert Maynard, the East Windsor first selectman, has submitted testimony in opposition to the casino-expansion bill.

Generally, legislators representing the Bridgeport and New Haven areas support the casino-expansion bill, as does MGM Resorts International, the Las Vegas-based casino operator building MGM Springfield, a nearly $1 billion resort casino in Massachusetts. MGM Resorts, which has sought to block the tribes' East Windsor project, has proposed a $675 million casino in Bridgeport.

Not everyone in Bridgeport wants a casino, though.

“I am sickened and saddened at the thought of our city’s waterfront being used for casino development and gaming expansion,” Ellie Angerame, a CACE member and Bridgeport resident, wrote in her testimony. “Our beautiful, complicated city is flawed, certainly. We are experiencing deep inequity, chronic underfunding and budgetary issues, absolutely, but to provide the ‘quick-fix’ promised to us through a casino on our city’s waterfront is to put salt into a wound that needs a nourishment and proper, thoughtful care to heal.”

In testimony regarding the bill calling for a study of gambling’s impacts, CACE members condition their support on the assumption that the study “will be conducted by a truly independent, objective party that has no ties to the Mashantucket or Mohegan Tribes, MGM or anyone in the casino industry.”

The last state-mandated analysis of gambling’s impact on Connecticut took place in 2009 and was conducted by the New Jersey-based Spectrum Gaming Group. During an informational hearing on gambling trends earlier this month, a Spectrum executive indicated the firm has done consulting work for Connecticut’s gaming tribes as well as other casino operators.

"The comprehensive study must be performed with no conflict of interest or bias," CACE members write.

Another bill subject to Thursday’s hearing calls for the state to adopt regulations on sports betting and affirms the authority of the state to regulate such wagering if and when federal law allows it. The bill anticipates an impending U.S. Supreme Court decision in a case involving a federal ban on sports betting. Most observers expect the ban to be lifted.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

Editor's Note: This version corrects an earlier one that misreported East Windsor First Selectman Robert Maynard's position on the casino-expansion bill.

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