Legislators in Connecticut are mired over the decision of expanding gambling in the state as the issue has deeply divided lawmakers and as a result has brought the process to a halt.
An initial bill sought to gain approval for a new casino license by two tribal operators in the state.
The Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes already have casinos in the state but wanted to come together in a joint venture to develop a third satellite casino in East Windsor that would help the state retain gaming revenue and jobs which were under threat due to the development of the $950 million MGM Springfield casino resort across state lines in Massachusetts.
Even as legislators debated the bill after it was tabled before the public safety and security committee, a second bill was introduced. This competing bill seeks to fully open up the gambling expansion, allowing new proposals and operators to be considered. The second bill which is dubbed as the MGM bill is in line with MGM’s position that the tribal operators should not be favored for a third casino license and instead the process should be opened to other bidders.
The company has undertaken intensive lobbying over the past year including filing legal suits to challenge the tribal groups’ plans. This is because the third tribal casino will significantly impact the traffic and revenue of the MGM Springfield facility and MGM Resorts wants to protect its interests in Massachusetts. A legal opinion from the state’s Attorney General George Jepsen further complicated the matter.
In response to a request by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Jepsen highlighted the fact that the state could lose its slot revenue and trigger court challenges if the tribal groups’ proposal is approved. According to Jepsen, the new casino even if built by the tribes could violate the state’s existing compact with the tribes. Under the agreement the state currently receives 25 percent of slot revenue from Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun in exchange for having the right to operate casinos in Connecticut.
The tribes have proposed amendments to the compact to address this which needs to be approved by the federal government. So far only a letter from the Bureau of Indian Affairs has been received which states that it is not an issue. However final approval is pending.
Jepsen has further warned that the state must be careful of its decision with a new presidential administration in place. Rep. Joe Verrengia, chairman of the committee also acknowledged the challenges in clearing the bill. Legislators are split on the matter not along party lines but largely depending on whether they have casino in their districts. In the meanwhile MGM Springfield is proceeding with its construction phase which is on schedule. The casino resort is expected to open in 2018 according to latest reports.