Candidates for governor supportive of casino expansion

All of the candidates for governor generally are supportive of casino expansion in the state, perhaps none more so than Joe Ganim, the Bridgeport mayor vying for the Democratic nomination in Tuesday’s primary election.

That’s not surprising, given that Ganim’s city has long been targeted as a casino site, most recently by MGM Resorts International, the Las Vegas-based operator that’s about to invade the Connecticut gaming market from just beyond the state’s northern border, in Springfield, Mass.

“I strongly support an open bidding and licensing process for commercial gaming in Connecticut,” Ganim wrote in an email response to a series of gaming-related questions posed by The Day.

Ganim noted that a bill calling for open bidding cleared the state House of Representatives this year but was not taken up by the Senate. MGM Resorts, a chief proponent of the measure, has vowed to push it again next year in an effort, it has said, to facilitate its plan to build a $675 million casino on the Bridgeport waterfront.

“What we are asking for at the state level is that MGM at least have a fair chance to bid on a license to build this major facility in Bridgeport and tap into the lucrative New York metropolitan area gaming market,” Ganim wrote. “This is not an exclusion of any proposal to build another casino elsewhere in Connecticut, or an effort to take jobs from existing casinos in the state.”

Ganim met earlier this month with the chairmen of the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes, respective owners of the southeastern Connecticut casinos, and said he would seek to continue a dialogue with them. He said it was possible the tribes could end up pursuing a casino in Bridgeport or elsewhere in Fairfield County.

Ned Lamont, the Democrats’ party-endorsed candidate, was far less bullish on casino expansion but also was careful not to offend the tribes.

“Ned does not believe that new casinos will be a magic bullet for our state's economy, but Ned will not stand in the way of projects which have financial backing and would not violate the compact with the tribal sovereign nations,” wrote Lacy Rose, the Lamont campaign’s communications director.

Lamont has not committed to supporting any particular casino plan, including MGM’s Bridgeport proposal.

On the Republican side, David Stemerman, one of five candidates for the GOP nomination, cited imminent competition from Massachusetts casinos — MGM Springfield and Wynn Resorts’ $2.5 billion Encore Boston Harbor, due in 2019 — in calling for “a new approach to gaming in Connecticut.”

“It is my view that the best path forward is to work collaboratively and deepen our partnership with the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes, and have them be our partners in developing new gaming facilities in East Windsor and in Fairfield County — and throughout the state,” Stemerman wrote. “This will help us to maintain and grow jobs and visitation in eastern Connecticut and develop this sector of the economy across the state to the benefit of everybody in Connecticut.”

He did not endorse MGM Resorts’ Bridgeport proposal.

In his response to The Day, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, the Republicans’ party-endorsed candidate, wrote, “I will not support any policies that would wind up costing a single job related to tribal gaming in southeastern Connecticut.”

He noted that ongoing negotiations between Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the tribes regarding the legalization of sports betting could require changes in the state’s gaming agreements, or compacts, with the tribes.

“The timing of these negotiations complicates many issues,” Boughton wrote. “A negotiated agreement will have to be approved by the legislature and implemented under a new administration. ... But before we consider major changes in our system, whether it is casino expansion in Bridgeport or anywhere else, we need to put in place a comprehensive gaming policy. Billions of dollars and tens of thousands of jobs are at stake and we need to take a wholistic approach.”

No candidate of either party expressed opposition to the legalization of sports betting.

Much like Boughton, Tim Herbst, the former Trumbull first selectman, said he’s not averse to casino expansion so long as it doesn’t jeopardize jobs in eastern Connecticut. He said any authorization of a Bridgeport casino would have to include a plan to mitigate its impact on Interstate 95 traffic, which he described as “horrendous."

“I’ll sit down with anyone who wants to invest $700 million in the state,” he said. “I’d like to get all the parties in a room — MGM and the tribes together — and talk about it.”

Steve Obsitnik also said he’s willing to listen to any entity with a plan to invest millions in the state and provide jobs, “regardless of whether it’s the tribes or MGM.”

A former Navy submariner who served in Groton, he said the tribes' relationship with the state and region is an important one.

“When the shipyard started to falter back in the day, the tribes and the casinos picked up the slack,” Obsitnik said. “Now EB is coming back, and the casinos are down. We need to remember how these relationships are formed. We need to remember that.”

Republican Bob Stefanowski's campaign did not provide responses to The Day's questions.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

Candidates for governor

REPUBLICANS

* Mark Boughton, 54, Danbury mayor

Tim Herbst, 37, former Trumbull first selectman

Steve Obsitnik, 51, tech consultant and Navy veteran

Bob Stefanowski, 56, former CFO of UBS Investment Bank

David Stemerman, 49, former Greenwich hedge fund manager

DEMOCRATS

Joe Ganim, 58, Bridgeport mayor

* Ned Lamont, 64, founder of Lamont Digital Systems

* Endorsed

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