Gov. Lamont, place winning bet with tribes. Here's how.
I bet you two-to-one I can come up with a solution for the state’s gaming quagmire.
But first, a few observations.
On the issue of gaming and sports betting, Gov. Ned Lamont appears disinterested, hapless or both. He seems more worried about lawsuits from MGM Resorts International, which runs and operates a casino in Springfield, Mass., then he does about creating and protecting Connecticut jobs.
In response to a question posed by Hearst Connecticut’s Dan Haar, the governor said, “I’ll revive any idea that lets us get off the dime and I don’t have to sit around and talk about gambling for the next three years, because in terms of my priorities, I’m not sure it’s in the top 20.”
Really?! Lamont must be working on some major stuff, then, if two tribal nations, 20,000 hard-working families, billions in potential revenue, and the goodwill of old allies can't break into his top 20 to-do list.
This state has had few partners in recent years that have done as much for its residents as the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes. Since the opening of Foxwoods in 1992, and later Mohegan Sun in 1996, the two tribes have sent more than $8 billion dollars to the state, money that’s gone to support everything from education to open space to public safety.
In addition to the direct contributions to the state, the two casinos are massive drivers of tourism, the state’s eighth largest industry. According to the Connecticut Office of Tourism (an agency that reports to Lamont), visitors spent $15.5 billion in Connecticut in 2017. That spending generated $2.2 billion in tax revenue.
Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods have been invaluable neighbors for nearly three decades. State leaders should be cultivating a solution that helps all Connecticut parties, including its citizens, not throwing up roadblocks that impede progress.
New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island already have sports betting. Every passing day, Connecticut loses potential tax revenue. Legalizing sports betting is priority one.
Here’s the solution.
Forget about a Bridgeport casino; it's a loser. A $300 million development in the Park City is nothing more than a glorified sports bar. New York has over 20 casinos/betting sites. The market is flooded. Investing in gaming in Bridgeport would be a mistake.
The potential East Windsor site for a jointly operated tribal casino is a bit more complicated. Hartford appears the better choice. But since the tribes have already invested a tremendous amount of time and money in the East Windsor plan, it would only be fair that the state offers them a great deal on the XL Center.
The tribes can restore and revamp a dying facility and inject energy into a capital city that's on life support. Such a venture would create hundreds of new casino jobs for inner city families. Imagine building something so fantastic that downtown Hartford actually became a destination. Hartford is only 28 miles from Springfield with East Windsor in the middle. The MGM Springfield is a small casino, in a terrible section of the city and would be no match for a downtown Hartford complex.
Give both tribes full control over sports betting, meaning they set up the system and run it through the casinos, as well as handling online action. Allow sports betting online within Connecticut's borders or in-person at the tribes' casinos. No other entities get a piece of sports betting.
Finally, Lamont, along with Connecticut Attorney General William Tong, would need to pledge to ferociously defend the new set up in court. The free market is a wonderful thing, but when you begin overwhelming the gambling landscape, casinos begin to cannibalize each other. Just look to the rise and fall of Atlantic City. Vegas survives this phenomenon only because it's a destination city with much more to do and see than just slots or blackjack. There are only so many discretionary gaming dollars to go around.
The tradeoff is this: The compact between the state and the tribes has been steady for over a quarter of a century. Currently, the tribes pay out 25% of slot revenue to Connecticut. My new deal would give the state of Connecticut 33% of all slot and sports betting revenue. The Mohegan Sun/Foxwoods folks would get a phenomenal deal in Hartford, a guarantee that no additional casinos will be built and total control of the state's sports betting — in exchange for another 8% of slot take and 33% of sports betting.
That’s the play that makes the tribal casinos, taxpayers and the Connecticut economy all winners.
Lee Elci is the morning host for 94.9 News Now radio, a station that provides "Stimulating Talk" with a conservative bent.
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