Revamped Casino Gaming Bill includes for New Competitors
Hartford, CONNECTICUT. — Lawmakers of the General Assembly’s Public Safety Committee in Connecticut voted 21-3 in favor of a revamped legislation on Friday that could potentially see the completion of a fourth casino in the state. The piece of legislation, proposing cancellation of the legislative approval for the construction of a new tribal casino, considered potentially illegal and unfair to the tribes, was not permitted to die in the General Assembly’s Public Safety and Security Committee.
Last-ditch efforts from lawmakers supporting the idea to revamp the bill to not revoke the tribe’s right to build but at the same time, open the playing field to competitors external to Connecticut, helped it to survive a Friday vote. The newly revamped bill is does not strip the federally recognized Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes of their rights to compete and is expected not to breach the state’s existing agreements with the tribes.
THE ORIGINAL BILL
The original version of the bill called for canceling the legislative approval for the construction of a new tribal casino, the first to be planned on non-tribal land. It intended to strip last year’s approval of the new tribal casino in East Windsor, which is currently being jointly developed by the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes to compete with MGM Resorts’ new casino opening soon in Springfield, Massachusetts.
The indigenous tribes argue that the jointly owned new casino near the state border is needed to protect 9,000 jobs at their existing southeastern Connecticut casinos, Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort Casino, both located on tribal lands. It appears that the only hold up to the final approval for the tribes’ new casino, was that the Interior Department failed to say yes or no to their plans for a third casino in the state. See the Politico article here. According to Politico’s article:
“Two casino-owning American Indian tribes are accusing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke of illegally blocking their plans to expand operations in Connecticut — a delay that stands to benefit politically connected gambling giant MGM Resorts International.
The Interior Department’s refusal to sign off on the tribes’ plans for a third Connecticut casino came after Zinke and other senior department officials held numerous meetings and phone calls with MGM lobbyists and the company’s Republican supporters in Congress, according to a POLITICO review of Zinke’s schedule, lobbying registrations and other documents. The documents don’t indicate whether they discussed the tribes’ casino project.”
THE REVAMPED BILL
The revamped bill, House Bill No. 5305, ‘AN ACT CONCERNING A REQUEST FOR PROPOSALS TO QUALIFY AN ENTITY TO DEVELOP A CASINO GAMING FACILITY IN THE STATE’, opens the door to further competition to even complete what could be a fourth casino in Connecticut, and is intended to create a fair process enabling private casino developers to also submit proposals to build a gambling facility somewhere in the state, most likely in Bridgeport. The latest version of the bill specifically allows for the East Windsor project, administered by the state’s two tribes, to continue to be carried out while opening the floor for new proposals from competitors, with all likelihood, the Las Vegas casino giant MGM Resorts International.
The tribes’ East Windsor casino project was delayed by the absence of Federal approval and the situation prompted some lawmakers to push for legislation this session that would rescind last year’s legislative approval and create a competitive casino bidding process. Since the East Windsor casino was not on track, delayed by legal wrangling and law suits, Democratic Rep. Joe Verrengia, of West Hartford, the committee’s House chairman, backed a competitive casino bill to vote for a compromise. Tribal leaders have said with confidence that they will secure the needed approvals and be operational within two years. More than 100 people had gathered at the site of the tribes’ proposed casino, the former Showcase Cinemas in East Windsor earlier this month, to watch an excavator begin demolition of the former Showcase Cinemas in East Windsor, the intended site of the new casino.
The new East Windsor casino is planned as a 200,000-square-foot facility on the site of the old Showcase Cinemas. At the demolition, tribal leaders had urged Connecticut lawmakers not to scuttle last year’s legislative approvals. Mohegan Tribal Chairman Kevin Brown had stated that they had been through too much already together to give up, and that the tribes were not going to do so.
The new gambling venue on the site of the old Showcase Cinemas aimed to blunt competition from MGM Springfield, the $960-million integrated resort currently under development in neighboring Massachusetts, to keep casino patrons and casino revenue within the state, and to protect existing casino jobs. the opening of MGM Springfield in 2018 could result in the two casinos losing customers and revenue to the new gambling venue and could force the two tribes to lay off up to 9,000 employees.
Joe Verrengia stated that he was not willing to “wait five years for a decision to come down on whether or not that casino may or may not happen,” and stated that he wouldn’t have backed a competitive casino bill if the tribal project was on track. He ultimately voted in favor of the compromise.
Casino giant MGM had lobbied in favor of the original bill during the session while saying that it wants to build a casino and entertainment complex in Bridgeport, but that last year’s legislation had unfairly thwarted its ability to pursue the project. Uri Clinton, MGM’s senior vice president and legal counsel, did not acknowledge how lawmakers this Friday protected last year’s approval of the tribal casino. Instead, he opted to state that MGM will “continue to advocate actively for a fair and full opportunity to compete for Connecticut’s commercial gaming license.”
If approved in the Legislature, the bill would allow for the opening of a new bidding process for operators interested in building a casino in Connecticut. The amended bill will now move onto awaiting further action in the House of Representatives.
MGM’S BRIDGEPORT CASINO PROPOSAL
MGM has proposed a $675-million casino resort for the Bridgeport waterfront that could create more than 7,000 jobs. The company has been calling for a new and fair bidding process, arguing that by selecting the Mohegan and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe as the preferred developers of the state’s first commercial casino in 2015, Connecticut lawmakers deprived other interested parties of the chance to participate in a fair competition.
MGM’s Bridgeport casino plan has been supported heavily by city officials, including Mayor Joe Ganim. Earlier this week, Connecticut’s Attorney General George Jepsen also spoke in favor of the proposal and the bill supporting it, saying that its approval would not breach the state’s existing agreements with its two federally recognized tribes. As a legal matter, however, it is my opinion that the proposed legislation would not run afoul of our existing agreements with the Tribes.”