Allowing more video slot machines in Connecticut could offset a decline in revenue from the state’s two tribal-owned casinos and keep other states from siphoning away gambling dollars, state lawmakers said Thursday at the first meeting of a task force on video gambling.
While Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort Casino once dominated the region’s gambling market, they have struggled to recover from the Great Recession as more options open for gamblers in Rhode Island, New York and Massachusetts.
The lawmakers on the task force, which is gathering information for a potential legislative proposal, said bringing video gambling to halls that offer betting on simulcast races in Bridgeport, New Haven and Windsor Locks could help keep local gamblers from crossing state lines.
“If we’re losing Fairfield County dollars because they’re going further south, it’s a problem,” said Sen. Andres Ayala, of Bridgeport, who held up a local advertisement for the Empire City casino in Yonkers, N.Y.
Allowing more video gambling would require changes to state law, which currently forbids it, and the compacts with Connecticut’s two tribal-owned casinos, the only places where it is allowed in the state. The Mohegan Tribe, which owns Mohegan Sun, has said that it generally is not opposed to such an expansion but that it would not support video gambling in Windsor Locks because it is so close to the line with Massachusetts, where the Mohegans are vying to build a casino in the western part of the state.
The tribal compacts call for the casinos to give 25 percent of their slot revenue to the state of Connecticut. Since 2007, the amount provided annually by the tribes has fallen from $430 million to $296 million.
Clyde Barrow, the director of the Center for Policy Analysis at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, told the task force that the competition in other states has held back Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods even as casinos elsewhere have begun to see business improving.
In a state that is also preparing to roll out keno, some are raising concerns about over-saturation of gambling. Mary Drexler, executive director of the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling, said it is worried about the potential to expose minors to gambling.
The three gambling halls under consideration for video slots are the Shoreline Star Greyhound Park in Bridgeport, the New Haven Teletheater and the Bradley Teletheater in Windsor Locks. A 2008 study prepared for the Bridgeport hall concluded that adding video gambling to those sites could generate millions in revenue for the state and create 3,000 jobs due to new investment and expansion.
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