Connecticut’s two federally recognized tribes announced they have chosen East Windsor for the site of their proposed border casino, but not everyone at the state Capitol thinks it’s the best location.
Some legislators talk of scrapping the idea and locating the state’s potentially third casino in southwestern Connecticut, taking advantage of the potentially lucrative New York gambling market.
“I think building a third casino in northern Connecticut, I just think it’s shortsighted,” said Rep. Christopher Rosario, D-Bridgeport, who submitted legislation this session that would allow new commercial gambling facilities in the state and impose a 25 percent tax on the gross revenues from slot machines and table games.
Rosario and other Bridgeport-area legislators are hoping a casino can instead be built in Bridgeport, the state’s largest city and site of previously proposed casino projects that never materialized.
“You get a bigger bang for your buck, not only for the region but for the state if you put it in southwestern Connecticut,” Rosario said.
The Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes joined forces 15 months ago to come up with a plan to blunt competition from MGM Resorts International’s $950 million casino in nearby Springfield, Massachusetts. The MGM casino is scheduled to open in late 2018.
The tribes contend their proposed, jointly operated $200 million-to-$300 million satellite casino near the state border would help protect thousands of jobs at the tribes’ two southeastern Connecticut casinos, Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort Casino.
The tribes had narrowed their list of possible locations to East Windsor and Windsor Locks. On Saturday, the East Windsor Board of Selectmen approved a development agreement with the tribes that provides the town $3 million up front and $3 million annually, plus tax payments, which are expected to total about $5.5 million each year.
“From the beginning, we’ve said that we want to site our new facility in a town that’s eager to have us. With the unanimous vote by the Board of Selectmen, East Windsor fits that bill, and we’re thrilled to enter into partnership with them,” Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, said Monday.
Their chosen location, along Interstate 91, was once the site of a movie theater complex.
The tribes now need legislative approval to build a casino off their respective reservations. While the tribal leaders want the General Assembly to act this session, it’s unclear whether the project has enough political support. The session ends June 7.
Some lawmakers at a recent informational hearing appeared attentive when MGM argued Connecticut might be able to reap more revenue from a casino in Fairfield County than what the state currently receives from the tribes, which pay Connecticut 25 percent of slot machine revenues in exchange for exclusive rights to run casinos in the state.
In 2015, the state received nearly $268 million. That’s compared to a high of nearly $430.5 million in 2007. The state would lose that revenue if its agreement with the tribes concerning the slot revenue arrangement is considered broken.
“We think the place to build in Connecticut is the southwest,” Uri Clinton, senior vice president and deputy general counsel for MGM, recently told lawmakers. MGM paid the state of Massachusetts $85 million for a license to build the Springfield casino. “The state of Connecticut has a market where the casino license could be highly valuable because of the proximity to the New York market.”