In Osten, region has a rare representative on public safety committee

Hartford — State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, a staunch advocate of the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes’ efforts to develop an East Windsor casino and roll out sports betting at their casinos in southeastern Connecticut, landed a seat Wednesday on the Public Safety and Security Committee, the legislative panel that oversees gaming.

Osten and Rep. Linda Orange, D-Colchester, are the 25-member committee's only members from southeastern Connecticut.

From the tribes’ perspective, Osten’s committee membership could offset the departure of former Sen. Tim Larson, D-East Hartford, who, as committee co-chairman, had backed the tribes’ bid to develop the East Windsor casino as a hedge against the competitive impact of MGM Springfield in nearby Massachusetts.

Larson, whose district includes East Windsor, left the legislature this week to accept an appointment as head of the state Office of Higher Education. In recent legislative sessions, Larson opposed proposals that called for the establishment of a competitive-bidding process among casino operators. Such proposals are expected to resurface this session.

Replacing Larson as Senate chairman of the public safety committee is Dennis Bradley, a Democrat whose district includes Bridgeport and Stratford.

The Bridgeport-area delegation has backed the competitive-bidding proposals in the past, as has MGM Resorts International, the Las Vegas-based casino operator that opened MGM Springfield in August and has proposed building one in Bridgeport. MGM Resorts also has acquired Empire City Casino in Yonkers, N.Y. 

Bradley said Wednesday he supports “transparency” and an “open process” but would favor “no particular group” seeking to develop a casino in the state.

“If the tribes have the best proposal, then that’s fine,” he said. “The city of Bridgeport would be a great place for a casino — but it’s not the only place.”

Bradley said he has yet to review the gaming-related bills Osten has submitted but his “gut reaction” is that the state should consider allowing entities other than the tribes to also provide sports betting.

Gov. Ned Lamont has said all parties interested in sports betting should get together to discuss it.

An MGM Resorts executive, Uri Clinton, responded Tuesday, saying in a statement: “We agree that such a discussion is in the state’s best interest, and we are prepared to take him up on his suggestion immediately.”

The tribes indicated they were cool to such talks, issuing a statement of their own Tuesday: “The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and the Mohegan Tribe are sovereign nations, with their own governments and laws. For the last 20 plus years, those governments have had essentially treaties in place with the state of Connecticut that grant them exclusivity in exchange for 25 percent of their respective casino's slot revenue, a deal that's sent more than $8 billion to the state's General Fund. Federal Law makes it clear exactly what happens if either side breaks these agreements."

“In contrast, MGM has no vested interest in Connecticut other than making sure any developments here don't impact their interests in New York and Massachusetts. ... They are not credible and they should have no seat at any table where the future of an important Connecticut industry is being discussed."

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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