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Tribes backing bill that seeks study of extended liquor service at casinos

Tribal gaming officials on Tuesday renewed their support for later last calls at their southeastern Connecticut casinos, urging state lawmakers to advance a bill calling for a study of the matter.

Testifying by Zoom at a public hearing conducted by the legislature’s General Law Committee, Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, said extending casino liquor-service hours to 4 a.m. would enable Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun to compete with out-of-state competitors that serve alcohol later than they do.

Connecticut law prohibits liquor service after 1 a.m. on weekdays and 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.

The bill before the committee — an outgrowth of one championed in 2019 by Rep. Christopher Rosario, a Bridgeport Democrat — would require the commissioner of the state Department of Consumer Protection to study the impact of extending hours of liquor service “at gaming and other establishments ... located not more than 50 miles from any border of this state.”

Rosario’s bill would have allowed for “nightlife entertainment zones” where liquor could be served until 4 a.m.

Ray Pineault, chief operating officer of Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment, the parent company of Mohegan Sun, testified Tuesday that the state should move forward with the study, which he said would provide “irrefutable evidence” that extended hours of liquor service would benefit the state’s economy as well as the casinos, whose revenues have taken a beating amid the coronavirus pandemic. The casinos contribute 25% of their slot-machine revenues to the state.

Pineault noted that Massachusetts casinos serve liquor on their gaming floors until 4 a.m. and that some establishments in New York City also serve that late.

“Many resort casinos have 24-hour liquor service,” he said. “To truly compete with Atlantic City, Connecticut casinos would need to have 24-hour liquor service. But the extension to 4 a.m. will at least bring us into some parity with surrounding states.”

Jason Guyot, Foxwoods’ interim president and chief executive officer, told committee members he firmly believes extending his casino’s liquor-service hours would result in an increase in its slots-revenue payments to the state.

Committee members who spoke were supportive of the proposed study, even questioning whether it's necessary.

“I don’t know why we need to do a study,” said Sen. Kevin Witkos, a Canton Republican, addressing Guyot. “You just want the same thing as your competition.”

Sen. Cathy Osten, the Sprague Democrat whose district includes the casinos and who supported Rosario’s original bill, also believes the study is unnecessary but said it could generate some useful data. She said she is fully prepared to vote for the extension of liquor-service hours.

“I’m hoping we can get parity between other gaming institutions and Connecticut and stop giving our money to other states,” she said.

In written testimony, Michelle Seagull, commissioner of the Department of Consumer Protection, recommended that the bill be changed to direct the state Liquor Control Commission to conduct the proposed study.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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