Next up: Connecticut Gaming 3.0
If the 1971 establishment of the Commission on Special Revenue — the state lottery — was Connecticut Gaming 1.0, and the opening of the two tribal casinos in the 1990s was 2.0, version 3.0 will be the opening of a third, off-reservation casino, possibly coupled with the introduction of online betting.
Connecticut, which is not so much the Land of Steady Habits anymore, is committed to expansion of gambling. Yet a third casino and online sports betting were left on the table during the recent General Assembly session — not out of a general aversion to more betting, and not because the potential revenues aren't enticing.
Politically, the question of a third casino was too much to resolve, even though the MMCT Venture of the Mashantucket Pequots and the Mohegan Tribe, operators of Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, respectively, has already invested at least $20 million in the selected, state-approved site in East Windsor. Online betting presents its own set of issues, but the likelihood that it will emerge in some form makes it a chess piece in the overall expansion.
Of all the options, The Day continues to support the Tribal Winds Casino planned for East Windsor. Ostensibly, it will save and create jobs in Connecticut, where both Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun have lost their one-time monopoly on Northeast gaming. It could keep in Connecticut some of the revenues that have dissipated to the new MGM Resorts International casinos in Springfield, Mass., and Yonkers, N.Y., and others in Boston and Rhode Island.
One thing the state does not need is two new casinos.
In the closing hours of the session, Bridgeport mayor and former gubernatorial candidate Joe Ganim tried to woo fellow Democrats with the idea of a casino in his city. Armed with a one-and-a half page fact sheet and indications from the tribes that they might consider Bridgeport as well as East Windsor, Ganim hawked the idea of a casino that might morph into a full-fledged resort, with the help of "private investors." The governor and the legislature blew off his idea, as they should. For starters, just who are those non-tribal investors?
Yet Governor Ned Lamont and some legislative Democrats bear some of the responsibility for encouraging Ganim's jack-in-the-box proposal. By countenancing the idea of a tribally managed casino in Bridgeport, legislators were seeking a formula that would somehow placate MGM and avoid legal action. The governor did not participate in the last-minute talks, but he has indicated he wants such a solution.
Lamont's wish, but so far failure, to find a win-win solution created a pause without forward movement. Into the gap rushed Ganim and his supporters.
The tribes, without having agreed to give up on East Windsor, were no doubt interested in a reported proffer of exclusive rights to sports betting and online wagering. The likely outcome of such a deal would be a strong protest from the Connecticut Lottery Corp. and the vendor for the state's off-track betting facilities, Sportech Venues, and more delay.
The questions of if, who, where, and when have dogged the idea of a third casino from the start. Some issues were resolved at long last, including stalling by the Bureau of Indian Affairs over allowing expansion of tribal gaming enterprises.
Lamont may wish to see himself as the governor of successful compromise, and it would indeed be good if he could engineer an arrangement to keep casino operation in the hands of the tribes, thus retaining the compact that sends 25 percent of slots revenues to the state and keeps other developers out. The reality is that MGM, with turf to protect in Springfield and Yonkers, presents a continuing threat of legal action unless the state were to agree with its insistence that outside developers be allowed to compete for a license.
But is MGM flying a false flag?
MGM could not choose to operate in East Windsor — its deal with Massachusetts for the Springfield casino prohibits it. Logic suggests MGM has never been all that serious about Bridgeport, given its proximity to Yonkers. More likely, this has been about delaying Tribal Winds. Who knows if MGM would even open a casino, were it to successfully compete for a license? No other casino companies have been lobbying legislators during the session, according to Connecticut Mirror reporter Mark Pazniokas. The word may be out that it's not worth trying in Connecticut, that the tribes have a lock on all gaming.
Open competition for another casino and the state may come up empty, with no revenues to collect from a third casino at all.
Barring a Solomon-like solution from the governor, the surest play is to stick with MMCT and East Windsor, then prepare for a fight. Online betting would still be in play, but it's the governor's turn to make a move.
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 Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman 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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