Tribes meet with gubernatorial, AG candidates in advance of primaries

Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, a Democratic candidate for governor, spent nearly two hours with Mohegan tribal leaders last Wednesday before traveling to Mashantucket to meet with the Mashantucket Pequot chairman.

Mohegan Chairman Kevin Brown, in fact, has individually met with all of the candidates for governor and attorney general in advance of Tuesday’s primary elections, according to Chuck Bunnell, the Mohegans’ chief of staff. Mashantucket Chairman Rodney Butler also has met with a number of candidates, a Mashantucket spokeswoman confirmed.

All of Brown's meetings have taken place at the Mohegans' government building off Route 32 in Uncasville, Bunnell said.

‘We were extremely encouraged that all of the candidates accepted our invitation and all were generous with their time,” he said. “Often, the meetings lasted more than an hour. We discussed the sovereign relationship between the state and the tribe ... the tribe's history, culturally, and the future of our shared economic interests, both on and off the reservation.”

Topics included the tribe’s plans for developing the former Norwich Hospital property in Preston, sports wagering and MMCT, the Mashantucket-Mohegan partnership that’s planning to build the state’s third casino in East Windsor, Bunnell said.

In addition to Ganim, the gubernatorial candidates with whom Brown met are Democrat Ned Lamont and Republicans Mark Boughton, Tim Herbst, Steve Obsitnik, Bob Stefanowski and David Stemerman.

The tribe does not endorse candidates for office, Bunnell said.

Ganim said Wednesday he saw the meetings as an opportunity to forge a better relationship with the tribes. MGM Resorts International, a casino operator whose soon-to-open Springfield, Mass., casino poses a competitive threat to the tribes’ southeastern Connectiut casinos, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, has proposed building a casino in Bridgeport should the state allow it.

Under agreements that grant them the exclusive right to operate casinos in Connecticut, the tribes are required to share their casinos’ slot-machine winnings with the state. They maintain that any breach of that exclusivity would free them of the obligation.

“The tribes have maintained that if Connecticut goes to commercial casinos (like the one proposed for Bridgeport), they would pay zero to the state,” Ganim said. “Some dispute whether that would hold up in court, but the state could be out millions of dollars.”

Ganim said that as mayor or as governor, if elected, he would pursue a dialogue with the tribes, who, he said, ultimately could be involved in discussions about a Bridgeport casino.

While MGM Resorts maintains that it is committed to its Bridgeport proposal, some gaming analysts and others say its recent acquisition of a Yonkers, N.Y., gaming facility north of New York City is an indication it’s no longer interested in Bridgeport.

“I take them at their word. They have not indicated any change to me,” Ganim said.

“He (Ganim) made it clear he was not in the business of choosing developers ... but would welcome the tribes into Bridgeport and Fairfield County,” Bunnell, the Mohegan chief of staff, said. “As a gubernatorial candidate, he understands this is about the state of Connecticut.”

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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