Tribes unwilling to withdraw from East Windsor casino plan

Amid the impasse in Connecticut’s gaming-expansion debate, the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes again asserted Monday that they remain committed to their Tribal Winds Casino project in East Windsor.

The tribes restated their position after The Hartford Courant reported that the state had discussed having them operate a casino at the XL Center in Hartford while withdrawing from East Windsor. Under the scenario, the state would grant the tribes the right to operate a Bridgeport casino and provide online gaming and sports betting.

While Gov. Ned Lamont believes the tribes should abandon their designs on East Windsor, his spokesman said Monday that it was not the governor who suggested the tribes shift their focus from East Windsor to the XL Center.

“It was raised at some point within the last week … but it did not originate with the governor,” Max Reiss, the spokesman, said of the idea. “For the governor, if there’s a way to get a public-private partnership involved in reinvigorating the XL Center and that’s part of the future of gaming — brick-and-mortars (casinos), sports betting, igaming — then that discussion is one he’s more than happy to have.”

Reiss did not say who proposed the sale of the XL Center to the tribes.

"The Tribes believe that Hartford can be part of a larger gaming bill, which is why they support the bipartisan, bicameral legislation that was announced last week that would include the development of an entertainment zone in the Capital City,” Andrew Doba, a spokesman for the tribes, said in a statement. “However, they are not willing to walk away from the Tribal Winds Casino in East Windsor, a project where they've invested nearly $20 million. We look forward to continued discussions with the governor and legislative leaders on a solution that puts Connecticut in the best possible position to maximize jobs and revenue."

During negotiations over comprehensive gaming legislation, Lamont’s office has sought to have the tribes abandon their East Windsor casino project, which has languished for two years. The governor believes MGM Resorts International, which opened a Springfield, Mass., casino last year, will sue to block the project, as it has in the past.

“He’s been clear,” Reiss said. “He wants to see a gambling solution that is able to start immediately. Getting sports betting (in place), having online lottery sales and figuring out where the brick-and-mortar casinos are — it’s all inextricably linked.”

Reiss said Lamont’s “principal issue” with the legislative proposal put out last week by Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, was that it wouldn't resolve the litigation question. The bill, which has the support of lawmakers from southeastern Connecticut, Bridgeport and East Windsor, calls for the tribes to invest in a Bridgeport gaming facility in exchange for the right to provide online gaming and sports wagering at their casinos and online. The proposal would not require the tribes to withdraw from East Windsor.

In a statement Monday, Osten said her bill is the state’s best option.

“Every year, Massachusetts collects $70 million in gaming revenue that belongs in Connecticut,” she said. “It’s time for us to ensure that we hold on to the revenue that belongs in Connecticut and that we hold on to the jobs that belong with Connecticut companies.”

MGM Resorts, which has proposed a Bridgeport casino and pushed in recent years for the legislature to pursue casino expansion by establishing an open-bidding process among casino operators, including the tribes, has not publicly commented on Osten’s bill or the reports emanating from Hartford.

Reiss said there’s still a possibility the legislature could take up gaming expansion in a special legislative session. The General Assembly will be having such a session in the months ahead to act on bond authorizations and an agreement with hospitals.

It is possible that a negotiated settlement of gaming issues could be added to the agenda, Reiss said, “but it would have to be clear that it’s an (overall) solution.”

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

 

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