MGM looking to expedite things in Yonkers, N.Y.

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MGM Resorts International’s point man for a proposed Bridgeport casino appeared before a legislature Tuesday, but not the one in Connecticut.

Instead, Uri Clinton, a familiar face at the Capitol in Hartford, showed up in Albany, N.Y., where he urged lawmakers to consider letting MGM’s Empire City Casino — a slots-only facility in Yonkers — pursue table games prior to the 2023 lifting of a moratorium on new casinos in New York.

MGM Resorts named Clinton president and chief operating officer of Empire City in December, as it was preparing to close on its $850 million purchase of the property, which includes Yonkers Raceway. The deal was completed at the end of January.

Clinton told legislators at the Capitol in Albany that he hoped to “start unlocking (Empire City’s) value now” and that “one of the ways to do that is to allow us to have access to live table games as opposed to electronic table games, Las Vegas-style slot machines and sports betting so that we can stop some of the revenue that’s leaving downstate and going out of state.”

The remarks drew a rebuke Wednesday from Andrew Doba, a spokesman for the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes, which have been at odds with MGM Resorts over their proposal to develop Connecticut’s third casino in East Windsor. MGM, which opened a Springfield, Mass., casino last fall, has sought to derail the East Windsor project while urging lawmakers to adopt a competitive-bidding process to facilitate MGM's own proposal for a casino in Bridgeport.

“Let’s be clear about exactly what Mr. Clinton said at a hearing in New York,” Doba said in a statement. “When he talks about revenue ‘going out of state,’ he's expressing concern about that revenue coming to Connecticut, revenue that supports thousands of jobs and sends millions to the state every single year. MGM is putting the squeeze on our state, and they're hoping that lawmakers don't notice.”

The tribes released a digital ad that says "DON'T LET MGM PUT THE SQUEEZE ON CONNECTICUT."

DON'T LET MGM PUT THE SQUEEZE ON CONNECTICUT.
The Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes issued this digital ad Wednesday after an MGM Resorts International executive told New York lawmakers that MGM hoped to expedite the introduction of tables games at Empire Resorts Casino in Yonkers, N.Y.

The tribes have said MGM’s purchase of Empire City, announced last May, was an indication that the Las Vegas-based operator wasn’t really interested in pursuing a $675 million Bridgeport project, a claim MGM has denied.

“MGM Resorts has been consistent in expressing interest in making a substantial investment in Connecticut, and that has not changed," an MGM spokesman, Bernard Kavaler, said Wednesday. "We remain hopeful that Connecticut will build on last year’s legislative progress, move forward to authorize an open, competitive process for a commercial casino license in the current session, and modernize the state’s gaming framework.”

Connecticut Rep. Christopher Rosario, a Bridgeport Democrat, said he didn’t infer anything from MGM Resorts’ interest in expediting the introduction of table games at Empire City.

“They’re in business, trying to make money,” he said. “As I cautioned my colleagues, we could be facing a situation where they do get table games and expand in Yonkers. Then what do we do in Bridgeport? Do the tribes just continue down the path in East Windsor, or do they need to reconsider their position on Bridgeport?”

The tribes have indicated that they would not participate in a competitive-bidding process for another casino in the state. And, they contend, state approval of such a process would breach the tribal-state gaming compacts that require them to share a portion of their existing casinos’ slots revenues with the state. The Mashantuckets and the Mohegans own Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun, respectively.

“I just want jobs and opportunities for Bridgeport,” Rosario said. “If it’s the tribes, it’s the tribes; if it’s MGM, it’s MGM.”

Empire City, one of the largest slots facilities in the country, has about 5,200 machines. MGM Resorts agreed to pay an additional $50 million for the property if it is awarded a license for live table games on or before Dec. 31, 2022, and MGM accepts such license by Dec. 31, 2024.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the New York legislature placed the moratorium on new casino licenses to give four upstate casinos that opened in the last few years time to get established before facing new competition. The upstate casinos, including one in the Catskills region, have struggled since opening.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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