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East Windsor approves proposed casino agreement

East Windsor’s Board of Selectmen approved a proposed development agreement Saturday that calls for the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes to pay the town $3 million up front and $3 million a year thereafter — on top of an estimated $5.5 million in annual tax payments — if they build a third Connecticut casino in the town.

The tribes, partners in MMCT Venture, told a legislative committee Thursday that they would announce “in a few days” whether they had settled on East Windsor or Windsor Locks, which they have yet to do.

“Listening to and speaking with each of the communities has been a top priority for both tribes,” Andrew Doba, an MMCT spokesman, said Saturday in a statement. “That’s why we held community forums, and that’s why today’s vote is so gratifying. We thank the Board of Selectmen for standing in support of this effort to save Connecticut jobs, and look forward to announcing a final site in the coming days.”

Robert Maynard, the East Windsor first selectman, said Saturday’s 4-0 vote of the five-member Board of Selectman authorized him to sign the agreement. He did not vote, he said, because the first selectman only votes to break ties.

The East Windsor site is now occupied by a long-vacant Showcase Cinemas building on Interstate 91. Maynard said the tribes likely would tear down the building.

“We’re very happy with the agreement,” Maynard said. “It’s a win for the tribes, for us because of the tax revenue and the payments that will mitigate the impact of the casino and for the state, too.”

The Mashantuckets and the Mohegans, respective owners of Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun, have collaborated on the bid to locate a casino north of Hartford to offset the impact of MGM Springfield, the $950 million resort casino being built miles from Connecticut’s northern border.

The Springfield casino will drain jobs and revenue from the state, the tribes maintain.

East Windsor was seen as having an advantage over Windsor Locks because it did not require that the development agreement with the tribes be put to a townwide referendum vote. In Windsor Locks, where the tribes have been considering a dormant tobacco field near Bradley International Airport, officials have indicated a referendum would have to be held.

MGM Springfield is scheduled to open in September 2018.

The tribes, who presented their plans at public meetings in East Windsor and Windsor Locks in late January, recently have quickened the pace of a process that began more than two years ago. The legislature’s Public Safety and Security Committee, the panel that is expected to draft the bill that would authorize Connecticut’s third casino, conducted a public forum Thursday at which the tribes and an attorney for MGM Resorts International, among others, made presentations.

MGM Resorts, the Las Vegas casino operator behind the Springfield, Mass., casino, has urged lawmakers to open up the casino-approval process. Limiting it to the tribes, MGM argues, raises constitutional questions.

In a statement issued Saturday night, MGM panned the proposed agreement approved by East Windsor selectmen.

“The plan by MMCT outlined today is a terrible deal for taxpayers in East Windsor and the State of Connecticut. There are so many problems, it’s hard to know where to start,” the statement begins. “First, for a $3 million annual payment to one community the State of Connecticut could put in jeopardy the Pequot Fund which contributes over $200 million in annual payments to the State, which are shared by over 160 municipalities through the state. The risk posed to the Pequot Fund is reason enough to raise a red flag.”

MGM also faults MMCT for failing to require a referendum in East Windsor.

While the tribes’ existing casinos are located on their respective reservations and are subject to federal regulation, the proposed third casino would be a state-regulated commercial venture. The tribes believe they could operate the third casino without violating their existing gaming agreements with the state.

Those agreements require the tribes to pay 25 percent of their casinos’ slot-machine revenues to the state.

Maynard, the East Windsor first selectman, said he believes his town’s approval of the proposed development agreement with the tribes helps its chances of winning the third casino. But, he said, he still worries that the tribes could choose Windsor Locks and that regardless of which town is chosen, the state could fail to pass a law authorizing a commercial casino.

The proposed agreement indicates the tribes expect construction of the casino to create about 1,700 construction jobs and the same number of permanent jobs, about 75 percent of which are expected to be full time. The tribes would pledge to hold at least two job fairs in the town and commit to a workforce made up of no fewer than 4 percent town residents and no fewer than 25 percent residents from inside a 25-mile radius of the casino.

The agreement also calls for the tribes to “use reasonable efforts” to procure at least $1 million in goods and services annually from local businesses.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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