The Connecticut General Assembly’s Public Safety & Security Committee voted on Thursday to draft two pieces of legislation aimed at casino expansion. One, HB 7055, would establish an open-bidding process for a new casino – most likely in Bridgeport – while the other, SB 11, would ease the way for the construction of a tribes-operated casino in East Windsor.
The latter has been contingent upon approval by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s blessing. That body has not rejected the project; instead, it has failed to issue any ruling, frustrating the operators of the would-be Tribal Winds Casino: the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, which operates Foxwoods, and the Mohegan Tribe, which operates Mohegan Sun.
While most supporters of the Bridgeport casino are in favor of the open-bidding bill, the tribes – which would run Tribal Winds as a joint venture under the MMCT banner – have said they are not. The tribes have further said that allowing a commercial casino operator in would invalidate their compact with the state, thereby depriving Connecticut of the revenue the tribes now pay: 25 percent of their slot machine revenues, which came to about $263.7 million last year.
The Public Safety & Security Committee also voted in favor of drafting SB 17, which would authorize sports wagering, internet gambling and internet Keno, and SB 665, which would establish competitive sports wagering on certain sporting events.
Although he voted in favor of all four bills, Republican state Sen. Tony Hwang of Fairfield, who is the ranking member of the Public Safety & Security Committee, left open the possibility that he could vote against them as the process moves along.
“I remain concerned and uneasy about the idea of gambling expansion in Connecticut for its devastating societal impact,” he said. “This industry has shown to be oversaturated and a declining economic model. The two tribal casinos we already have are showing diminishing returns month after month, and the MGM casino in Springfield, Massachusetts (MGM Springfield, whose owner MGM Resorts has been pushing for a Bridgeport casino for years), with rosy promises to be economically revitalizing, is underperforming.”
Hwang said that he “reluctantly” voted to advance drafting of statutory language to move the discussion forward. “I believe this issue deserves the attention and debate of the full legislative body,” he said. “We should be debating fully-drafted and vetted legislation, not concepts.”
The senator said his concerns included the existing arrangement with the tribes and loss of revenue should that compact be broken, and repeated his concerns about the societal impacts of gambling.
“Any deal we strike that would result in higher profits for the gaming industry and state government should be accompanied by proportional increases in funding for combating gambling addiction, expanding mental health services, and any other historical beneficiaries,” he said.
“I understand my colleagues’ desire to push this through as fast as possible to better compete with our neighboring states,” Hwang said. “I strongly believe that we should wait, learn from their experience and possible mistakes, and perhaps be wiser in adopting a better version of the policy or not doing so at all.”