Osten confident House-approved casino bill won't clear Senate

State Sen. Cathy Osten, the Sprague Democrat whose district includes southeastern Connecticut’s tribal casinos, said Monday she’s confident a House-passed bill that eventually could lead to a commercial casino elsewhere in the state will fail to win Senate approval.

It’s uncertain whether the Senate will vote on the bill before the end of the current legislative session, which must conclude by midnight Wednesday. If the Senate does approve the bill, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy would have to consider whether to sign it into law or veto it.

“We will continue to monitor this proposal as it works its way through the legislative process,” David Bednarz, the governor’s spokesman, wrote Monday in an email. “With that said, Governor Malloy has consistently cautioned that in regards to gaming issues in Connecticut, we must ensure that we are honoring our existing compact with the tribal nations and that we continue to prioritize Connecticut jobs.”

“I can tell you the Senate’s not going to pass it,” Osten said of the bill. “Unless somebody wants to come up with the $270 million we’d lose from the tribes, there’s no way.”

Opponents of the bill the House narrowly approved Friday warned that it could cause the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes, respective owners of Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun, to stop paying the state 25 percent of the slot-machine revenues the casinos generate. The payments amounted to more than $270 million in the fiscal year that ended last June.

State Attorney General George Jepsen, however, has said the proposed legislation should not jeopardize the payments since the bill would not violate terms of the state's revenue-sharing agreements with the tribes. Those agreements granted the tribes the exclusive right to operate casinos in the state.

The bill only calls for submission of casino proposals, the first step in a two-part process that could culminate in the licensing of another casino. Such licensing would require passage of further legislation next year. MGM Resorts International has said it will submit a proposal for a Bridgeport casino if the bill becomes law.

The tribes have said they would not participate in the bidding.

Osten also said she’s still hopeful the legislature will take action to help MMCT Venture, a Mashantucket-Mohegan partnership, move forward with development of an East Windsor casino to counter the impact of a nearly $1 billion resort casino MGM Resorts expects to open in Springfield, Mass. The federal government’s failure to act on the tribes' gaming-agreement amendments with the state has stalled the East Windsor project.

“MMCT should be authorized for construction today,” Osten said. “They don’t have to wait for (federal) approval.”

Republican Reps. Kathleen McCarty of Waterford, Mike France of Ledyard and Holly Cheeseman of East Lyme say they, along with other southeastern Connecticut lawmakers, have written to their Senate colleagues, urging them to vote against the House-approved bill. They say the measure jeopardizes existing casino jobs as well as the revenue the state derives from the casinos and puts at risk the financing necessary to complete construction of the East Windsor casino.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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