Continue working with tribes on gaming issues
The state legislature's decision to work with the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes to address growing competition in the gaming industry, and the corresponding threat to a source of state revenues, is proving to be the right one.
Likewise, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is making the correct choice in trying to negotiate with the tribes to find a mutually agreeable way forward in introducing legalized sports betting in Connecticut.
On Friday, the U.S. Department of the Interior ended what appeared to have been its politically motivated stalling and published a notice in the federal register that should clear the way for development of a casino in East Windsor. The two tribes, which have exclusive rights to casino gambling operations in Connecticut, would jointly operate it.
The notice states that the amendment to the compact between Connecticut and the Mohegan Tribe, operator of the Mohegan Sun Casino, is "considered to have been approved" because Interior officials failed to act within 45 days, as required by law. The state authorization for the East Windsor casino is contingent upon publication of approval in the Federal Register.
The Mashantucket Tribe, operator of Foxwoods Resort Casino, is expected to receive the same approval tied to the 45-day requirement. The approval comes about a year after the General Assembly authorized the casino plans. The intent of the East Windsor casino is to attract some patrons in the Greater Hartford area who might otherwise be drawn to the soon-to-open MGM Resorts International casino in Springfield, Mass.
MGM has done all it can to stall and try to block a competing Mohegan-Mashantucket casino in East Windsor. Lawmakers from Nevada, who have benefited from MGM campaign donations, lobbied to prevent the Interior approval. An investigation by the Office of Inspector General to determine if any ethical lines were crossed is continuing.
MGM has also expressed interest in developing a casino in Bridgeport, an obvious ploy to divide the legislature and undermine support for the East Windsor plans. Thankfully, lawmakers did not take the bait. Any pretense that MGM was ever truly interested in Bridgeport — it wasn't — was washed away when MGM announced its purchase of the Empire City Casino in Yonkers, N.Y., just 17 miles from the Connecticut border.
Unfortunately, the delay in approval by the Department of the Interior bought MGM time. Its casino in Springfield will open first and the jointly operated East Windsor casino will have the challenge of recapturing patrons when it opens. But that third Connecticut casino will keep more gaming dollars, and the state revenues that flow from them, in the state.
Which brings us to sports betting. The U.S. Supreme Court opened the door to legal sports gambling when it struck down a federal law prohibiting states from offering it. The tribes contend their compacts with the state give their casinos exclusive rights to sports betting. Attorney General George Jepsen sees things differently.
At stake is the 25-percent share of slot-machine revenues from Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun that the tribes send to the state, amounting to about $270 million last year. A violation of the compact would put those revenues at risk.
Malloy is making the right decision in trying to negotiate a deal beneficial to both the tribes and the state, avoiding a legal confrontation. A special session to vote on a deal is possible this summer. It's a complicated issue, however. The priority must be to get it done right, not fast.
The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Timothy Dwyer, Executive Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, copy editor Owen Poole and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.
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