Osten, Mashantuckets make case for broadening state-tribe partnership

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State Sen. Cathy Osten is defending the bipartisan gaming proposal that cements the state’s relationship with the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes, saying Thursday she’s not concerned that MGM Resorts International would sue over the plan.

A day after the proposal was announced, the Mashantuckets released a report that emphasizes their role in driving the economy in eastern Connecticut and beyond.

Osten was instrumental in bringing together legislative delegations from southeastern Connecticut, Bridgeport and East Windsor, the three areas of the state where gaming expansion is an especially hot topic. Members of the delegations support the plan calling for the tribes to lead the development of a Bridgeport casino and granting them the right to conduct internet gambling and sports wagering.

A spokesman for Gov. Ned Lamont said Wednesday the proposal falls short of the governor’s goal of a “global resolution” of the issues surrounding gaming expansion, one of which is the tribes’ stalled effort to open a casino in East Windsor, where it would compete against MGM Resorts’ nearly year-old casino in Springfield, Mass.

For the second day in a row, MGM Resorts, which also has proposed a Bridgeport casino and owns and operates one in Yonkers, N.Y., declined Thursday to comment on the proposed legislation.

In a statement Wednesday, Lamont’s spokesman, Max Reiss, faulted the language of the proposal, saying “a bill that only authorizes versus requires a meaningful project in Bridgeport is not good enough.”

“The mayor of Bridgeport and the Bridgeport delegation were pleased with the language. They were happy with it,” Osten said. “If the governor wants to get involved ... he could have been working on his own language for the last eight months.”

Earlier this year, negotiations between the governor’s office and the tribes reached an impasse over the tribes’ commitment to East Windsor. Lamont would have preferred the tribes instead turn their attention to Bridgeport in exchange for the exclusive right to introduce sports betting in the state. MGM Resorts might then have withdrawn from the state without pursuing further litigation aimed at stopping the East Windsor project.

“When the next (casino operator) comes to Connecticut and says we should cut him in, are we going to give him something, too?” Osten said. “MGM is working for jobs and revenues in Massachusetts and New York. They shouldn’t be telling Connecticut what to do. ... If Newport News says they don’t like everything EB’s getting, are we going to cut them in?”

Osten said casino projects and other major undertakings inevitably occasion litigation.

“I don’t think that should be a consideration,” she said. “A judge has already thrown MGM’s suit out once and will again.”

Some believe MGM Resorts could renew its claim that the 2017 state law that authorized the tribes to pursue a commercial casino on nontribal land is unconstitutional. A federal judge dismissed the claim in a 2016 decision upheld by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Osten noted the tribes are entirely willing to assume the legal costs associated with the projects they pursue.

Given the gaming proposal’s cool reception, it seemed unlikely Thursday that a special session of the legislature would be convened to consider it. Osten said the lawmakers would continue to “tweak” the bill, adding that in the meantime Connecticut will fall “farther and farther behind” neighboring states that have embraced expanded gambling and legalized sports betting.

Tribe state's 8th-largest employer

The economic impact study released Thursday by the Mashantuckets finds that the tribe, which owns and operates Foxwoods Resort Casino, is the state’s eighth-largest employer.

Authored by Jonathan Taylor, an economist with expertise in natural resources, gaming and American Indian development, the report cites tribal sovereignty as a key factor in the tribe’s economic success, noting that Foxwoods revenues are spent locally on government programs and services that benefit tribal members and are shared with the state. Tribal-state gaming agreements calls for the Mashantuckets and the Mohegans, who own Mohegan Sun, to pay 25 percent of their casinos' slot-machine revenues to the state.

By releasing the study, Rodney Butler, the Mashantucket chairman, said the tribe hopes to highlight its long history as a good neighbor and economic partner with the state.

“The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation is not a business looking for an advantageous location,” Butler said in a statement. “We are a Nation that has been part of Connecticut for hundreds of years. We’re not going anywhere. Rather than pit us against out-of-state businesses, we’d urge the state to work with us, government-to-government, to protect the jobs and prosperity we’ve created, and to grow the economy.”

Among the findings in the report, based on 2017 data, are:

• Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and Foxwoods have brought jobs and greater prosperity to a part of the state that was devastated by the loss of defense industry jobs in the 1980s and early 1990s.

• Foxwoods has hosted 300 million visits since opening in 1992, an average of 35,000 visits a day and more than 12.8 million per year, supporting 12,500 jobs and generating $1.1 billion in economic activity in 2017.

• MPTN and Foxwoods employed 9,702 people in 2017. The overwhelming majority of payroll, 77 percent, was paid in Connecticut, mostly in southeastern Connecticut.

• More than three-quarters of Foxwoods gaming dollars in 2017 came from out-of-state patrons.

• MPTN and its businesses paid $324 million in regular and overtime earnings and benefits (medical and dental insurance, paid leave and 401k contributions) in 2017.

• On those earnings and benefits, MPTN withheld $31 million in federal income taxes; $8.8 million in state income taxes and $40 million in Social Security and Medicare taxes. In addition, tenant stores and restaurants also paid compensation and withheld taxes.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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