Senator: If Lamont wants jobs, he should back casino bill

TV viewers in Connecticut were treated last week to a new commercial for Encore Boston Harbor, Steve Wynn’s new $2.6 billion resort and casino on the Beantown waterfront. From start to finish it took four and a half years to build and open (if you go, be sure to try the $59 veal parmigiana.)

Of course, Connecticut residents have been inundated for over a year with TV ads for the MGM Springfield (Mass.) hotel and casino, which opened in just over five years from start to finish. Not as well-known perhaps is MGM’s "racino," the Empire City Casino in Yonkers, N.Y. that MGM bought last year for $850 million and which offers 5,200 slots and electronic table games as well as live and simulcast horse racing. Sports betting could be next.

Rhode Island opened its second full-scale casino less than a year ago.

Why the primer on regional gaming? It’s to remind you that two of Connecticut’s largest private-sector employers – the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes, who employ more than 15,000 people and have contributed $8 billion in revenue to this state over the past 25 years – are now beset on all sides by new and expanding gaming competition.

They need our help to survive and thrive.

A few weeks ago, I and a bipartisan group of Democratic and Republican legislators in the House and Senate introduced a draft bill we believe charts a new path forward for Connecticut’s gaming industry, for its thousands of good-paying, middle-class jobs, and for the hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue that the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribal nations contribute to our state budget every year.

The bill is called “The Connecticut Jobs and Revenue Act,” and it would allow the Mohegan and Pequot tribes to open a new casino in Bridgeport, continue their work on a new casino in East Windsor, operate online sports betting in Connecticut, and – in a matter unrelated to the tribes – allow the Connecticut Lottery to run online Lottery and Keno games.

Why this bill, and why now? Because Connecticut’s economy demands and deserves it.

Legislative leaders and rank-and-file members already know how valuable the tribes and their resorts are to Connecticut: a brand-new report titled “Economic Impact of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation” by Jonathan B. Taylor (Google it) paints a pretty clear picture.

But there are others who aren’t so sure. For some reason, Governor Lamont has been more critical than supportive of the latest legislative plan to save and grow Connecticut jobs and grow Connecticut revenue. I seem to recall in his State of the State Address earlier this year that he noted he is one of the first Connecticut governors to come from the business world, and he would be “hyper-focused on job creation.” If so, saving and growing Connecticut gaming jobs is a good place to start.

I do understand the governor’s concern about the threat of legal roadblocks from MGM; it’s echoed in his desire to seek a "global solution" to this issue "while avoiding litigation." Like the schoolyard bully looking for lunch money, MGM relies on threats and posturing to wring cash out of innocent bystanders. In 2017, when the Connecticut state legislature awarded the tribes the right to open a casino in East Windsor, MGM Resorts International spent $3.8 million on lobbying in Connecticut, more than three times any other interest group.

Even as I type this, MGM has just filed a lawsuit in federal court in Washington, D.C., alleging that the Interior Department erred in confirming the tribes’ right to open the East Windsor casino. MGM will stop at nothing to protect its casino investments in Massachusetts and New York and the dollars those MGM casinos steal from Connecticut workers and Connecticut taxpayers.

Connecticut shouldn’t cave in to threats and bullying. With a unified front, Connecticut must push forward with a plan that protects and grows Connecticut jobs, and protects and grows Connecticut revenues, if we are to achieve the job growth and budget stability that state residents expect and demand.

Connecticut would never invite the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company to open a submarine facility in Waterford to compete with General Dynamics Electric Boat in Groton. Connecticut would never invite Airbus to make jet engines in West Hartford to compete with UTC/Pratt & Whitney in East Hartford. Connecticut would never invite Boeing to Bridgeport to compete with Sikorsky helicopters in Stratford. Why is gaming any different than those other major Connecticut employers? The answer: it’s not.

Let’s fight MGM in the courts if we have to, even as we move forward with more Connecticut jobs and revenue courtesy of our faithful and longstanding state business partners, the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribal nations. It’s the right thing to do for Connecticut.

State Senator Cathy Osten, a Democrat, represents the 19th Senate District and is also Sprague first selectwoman.

 

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