Go back to casino Plan A

If there had been a way to do it, 30 years ago, The Day would have liked to see the Native tribes in this region, our neighbors, thrive and flourish without casino gambling. But that horse is long gone from the barn, and — as noted by state Sen. Cathy Osten, co-author of a proposal for new sharing arrangements for gaming revenues — the two tribal casinos are now a key part of the economy in Connecticut.

The Mashantucket Pequots and the Mohegan Tribe have proven their respective entrepreneurial skills and become interstate and international business operators with various partners and investors. What they have not done, yet, is to run a business together.

Their initial sizable attempt to do so is their MMCT proposal for a jointly operated casino in East Windsor. The $300 million Tribal Winds casino is strategically planned to intercept Connecticut gaming patrons tempted by new casinos in Springfield, Boston and Rhode Island to turn away from Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun. The venture got the approval of the legislature but is in limbo as nontribal players try to horn in.

We recognize that Sen. Osten, D-Sprague, is doing her job in applying her tough negotiating skills to secure jobs in her district, but the result has not moved anything forward. Her bill would allow the tribes to open a casino in Bridgeport, stick with East Windsor and operate online sports betting, which the state does not yet have. In the clamor that followed her proposal, the idea was floated that Hartford's deteriorating XL Center could join the mix, and East Windsor be damned.

Whoa. Three casinos is the limit. More than that will increasingly fragment the market, and without enough customers per casino, jobs go away. The tribal casinos have seen how that works. For an urban casino without the entertainment range of either Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun, there is not much other revenue to fall back on. Casinos will not improve Hartford or Bridgeport.

Gov. Lamont has given Osten's idea the cold shoulder, expressly because he wants to accommodate MGM, operator of casinos in Springfield and in Yonkers, N.Y. He believes MGM Resorts International will sue the state if tribal gaming is permitted off tribal lands. MGM is already suing the U.S. Department of the Interior over its approval of the tribal partnership to build in East Windsor.

Dangling out there is the question of what MGM would do if it ever did get permission to operate a casino in Bridgeport, as the governor seems to consider a possibility. Smart money says MGM might just hold on to its exclusive right and do nothing to develop competition for Yonkers. No casino for Bridgeport under that scenario.

Earlier this month, the tribes reiterated their commitment to East Windsor, although at the same time they bought in to the possibility of the Bridgeport idea. And why not? They are experienced developers, and business smarts would suggest keeping their options open while the cities, the legislators, and the governor figure out where they stand — not only on another casino but also on online betting.

Who gets to run online sports betting is an X-factor in the casino competition. The legislature has yet to decide whether Connecticut will join neighboring states in permitting online betting on sports, but it will. Watching other states rake in the money that can be spent right from the living room recliner will make it too tempting to resist.

The Day seeks a sharing arrangement that gives the tribes exclusive control over some elements of betting online, while leaving a niche on sports gambling for the Lottery and OTBs. On the casino question, we reiterate support for East Windsor as approved by the legislature, despite the governor's urging to abandon it. 

Continued delays might be forestalling the feared legal challenges, but inaction is no long-term solution. It opens the door to a wide mix of schemes, and it might even cost the tribal partnership the interest of investors who get tired of waiting. 

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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