Bridgeport casino wouldn't make enough to offset tribes' payments, consultant says

Assuming the third Connecticut casino gets built — and few consider that a slam dunk — a fourth, competitively bid casino would have to generate nearly $1.1 billion in annual gross gaming revenues to offset what the state would lose when the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes stop sharing their casinos' slot-machine revenues, a new report concludes.

And the probability of a Bridgeport casino pulling in that kind of cash “is almost zero,” says the report's author, Clyde Barrow, a much-quoted expert on Northeast gaming and a consultant to the tribes.

“Not a single commercial casino in the United States currently generates that level of gross gaming revenue,” Barrow's report says.

Titled “Competitive Bid for a 4th Casino? Why Connecticut Would Be the Biggest Loser,” the report will be widely disseminated Monday.

Barrow, first retained by the tribes in 2015, when they were proposing to develop three “satellite” casinos in the state to help Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun weather competition then looming in Massachusetts and New York, was most recently commissioned to analyze the potential impact of a bill establishing a competitive-bidding process that could lead to a fourth Connecticut casino.

MGM Resorts International, which expects to open a nearly $1 billion resort casino in Springfield, Mass., in less than six months, has indicated it intends to propose a Bridgeport facility if the bill becomes law.

Since Barrow’s 2015 analysis, much has changed.

The tribes’ three-casino plan led to legislative approval of a single “satellite” — the third Connecticut casino — that has been authorized for an East Windsor site some 12 miles from Springfield. Four new resort casinos have opened in New York state, two of which — Rivers Casino & Resort in Schenectady and Resorts World Catskills in Thompson — directly compete with Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun in the Albany, N.Y., and New York City markets.

In addition, Plainridge Park Casino, a slots parlor, has opened in Plainville, Mass., and a Tiverton, R.I., casino is scheduled to open in October. A $2.4 billion resort casino remains under construction near Boston.

What's also changed, the report notes, is the scale of MGM Resorts International's designs on Bridgeport. When the Las Vegas-based operator commissioned an analysis of its own in 2016, the resulting study by Oxford Economics assumed that a $1.1 billion resort casino in southwestern Connecticut would generate $721 million annually in gross gaming revenue by its third year of operation. At a 25 percent tax rate, that would provide the state with $180.2 million in tax revenue.

That wouldn't be nearly enough to offset the tax revenue Connecticut would lose by authorizing a fourth casino operated by an entity other than the tribes, whose exclusive revenue-sharing agreements require them to pay 25 percent of their casinos' slot-machine revenues to the state. In fiscal 2017, those payments totaled $270.7 million, a 1.8 percent increase over the previous year's $265.9 million.

While MGM Springfield is expected to cut deeply into the tribes' revenues at Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, the East Windsor casino is expected to largely offset the impact.

So, the report says, the loss of $270.7 million in tribal revenue-sharing payments would only be partially offset by the $180.2 million in tax revenue the Bridgeport casino would generate.

"This would result in a permanent net reduction of state revenue of $90.5 million annually even after a Bridgeport casino is fully operational," the report says.

As the report notes, and Barrow emphasized Friday in a phone interview, MGM Resorts unveiled plans last September for a $675 million Bridgeport casino — a far cry from the $1.1 billion figure floated in the Oxford Economics study. And, Barrow said, the bill establishing a competitive-bidding process for a fourth Connecticut casino only requires a $500 million investment. Given that, the potential loss of $90.5 million is an optimistic scenario, he said.

A commercial casino in Bridgeport or elsewhere would have to generate nearly $1.1 billion in gross gaming revenue to offset the tax revenue the state would lose because the tribes would stop paying, the report says.

Barrow’s analysis considers the example of MGM Resorts’ National Harbor resort casino outside Washington, D.C., a $1.4 billion facility that opened in December 2016. Projected to generate $714.7 million annually by its third year, it took in $338.4 million in its first full year, according to the report.

“MGM’s National Harbor provides a window into the future of what is likely to happen should the General Assembly pass HB 5305 (the competitive-bidding bill) and the state award a license to MGM to build a commercial casino in Bridgeport, Connecticut,” the report says.

Potential developments in New York, where a constitutional moratorium on New York City casinos expires in December 2022, also threaten the success of a Bridgeport casino, Barrow contends.

If Connecticut authorized a Bridgeport casino "expressly for the purpose of capturing New York customers," the Empire State is well positioned to defend itself, the report says, "by authorizing an even larger mega-casino or converting an existing racetrack gaming facility in Yonkers or Queens into a full-scale resort with table games taxed at only 10 percent and a speed-to-market advantage over a proposed Bridgeport casino."

"There is nothing," the report continues, "to prevent the State of New York from locating a new casino even closer to the Connecticut border, where it could intercept casino traffic from New York City and capture traffic from Fairfield County. The anticipated traffic from New York City will never materialize for a Bridgeport casino because New York can easily and quickly pre-empt a new competitive threat from Connecticut by building an even more lavish casino that is more convenient to New York City customers."

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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