The on-again, off-again plan to bring a casino to Bridgeport looks like it could be on again – although there are still hurdles to overcome.
The Connecticut Jobs and Revenue Act (CJRA) carries the support of a bipartisan, bicameral group of legislators, according to State Sen. Cathy Osten (D, Sprague). The bill would require the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes – which respectively operate the Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos — to spend a minimum of $100 million toward a $300 million entertainment and gambling facility in Bridgeport.
In return, the tribes would be allowed to conduct sports wagering at their casinos, through mobile applications and online. Sports wagering would be taxed at 8% while internet gambling would be taxed at 10%. The tribes would also pay the state 10% of casino table game revenues. They already pay 25% of their slot machine revenue to the state.
In addition, the CJRA would modernize the Connecticut Lottery by allowing it to offer online and app-based lottery ticket sales and to offer iKeno.
The tribes’ previously announced joint venture, the $300 million Tribal Winds Casino in East Windsor, will go forward, according to State Sen. Saud Anwar (D, South Windsor).
“We’ve long believed that the best way forward for the state is to protect and preserve the historic partnership with our two Tribes, one that’s generated more than $8 billion in revenue for Connecticut,” according to a statement by Mashantucket board chairman Rodney Butler and interim Mohegan board chairman James Gessner. “The draft legislation takes us one step closer to that goal, and we look forward to continuing our discussions with the governor and legislative leadership in the near future.”
The legislation would also allow the tribes to take part in the development of entertainment zones in Hartford and two other cities that would be selected by the tribes, working in conjunction with state and local officials, which would create 100 jobs per facility.
If passed, the Bridgeport facility would result in at least 1,000 construction jobs and another 500 permanent jobs at the casino itself.
Osten has requested a special legislative session to consider the bill later this year.
“If the goal of the debate around gaming is to maximize the number of jobs and the amount of revenue for Connecticut, then this bill is the solution,” Osten said. “This legislation will deepen our partnership with two of our biggest employers and our large single taxpayers – the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes. With slot revenues showing a steady and gradual decline because of increased competition, we can’t afford to kick the can down the road. The time to act on this legislation is now.”
“This legislation is a great example of what we can accomplish when we work together, regardless of our party affiliation or the chamber we serve,” said State Rep. Christopher Rosario (D, Bridgeport). “I’m proud to support this bill and urge other elected leaders to join the fight.”
“Bridgeport is a city that’s reinventing itself, with new restaurants and retail outlets that are already drawing people from outside the city,” added State Sen. Dennis Bradley (D, Bridgeport). “When we pass this bill, we’re going to put that reinvention into high gear, with new jobs for residents and new taxes for municipal government.”
Republican Sen. Paul Formica (East Lyme) and Representatives Carol Hall (East Windsor) and Christopher Davis (Ellington, East Windsor) also expressed their support for the CJRA.
But the proposal faces several potential roadblocks.
MGM Resorts, which operates casinos in Springfield, Massachusetts and Yonkers, New York, has for several years been lobbying to build a $675 million casino in the city’s Steelpointe Harbor. Those plans call for: a 100,000-square-foot casino with 2,000 slot machines and 160 table games; a 300-room hotel; 30,000 square feet of retail space; a 20,000-square-foot entertainment venue with a 700-seat theater; and 60,800 square feet of dining space that would include five restaurants and six bar and lounge locations.
MGM declined to comment on the Osten-led proposal, but has indicated in the past that it could take the matter to court if a competitive process for selecting additional casinos in Connecticut was not established.
Meanwhile, Sportech, which has an exclusive license for the state’s off-track betting facilities – including at Bobby V’s Restaurant & Sports Bar in Stamford – indicated that it too feels that the expansion of legalized gambling in the state should be done in an equitable and competitive manner.
Gov. Ned Lamont – who voiced skepticism about a similar effort by the tribes and Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim to push through legislation allowing a casino to be built there as the regular legislative session neared expiration – indicated that more time would be needed to fully address the issues raised by the CJRA.
“Only last week did the administration receive this draft legislation,” said Lamont’s Director of Communications Max Reiss. “A matter of such significance requires substantial involvement from multiple stakeholders, in particular the executive branch.
“Something this complex should not be negotiated without all necessary parties and certainly not behind closed doors,” Reiss continued. “While we are appreciative of Sen. Osten’s efforts and that of the various delegations, the administration’s position remains the same: a global resolution that mitigates the likelihood of years of litigation and positions the state to capitalize on a comprehensive gaming platform.
“Further,” he added, “this proposed bill falls short of what the governor wants for Bridgeport – a bill that only authorizes versus requires a meaningful project in Bridgeport is not good enough.
“The administration looks forward to its participation in ongoing negations with the tribes,” Reiss concluded.
Ganim expressed support for the new casino.