Newly proposed legislation would enable the expansion of gaming operations conducted by the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes, including the creation of a tribal casino in Bridgeport.
The legislation, “An Act Concerning Jobs In and Revenue From the Gaming Industry,” is authored by Democratic state Sen. Cathy Osten, whose 19th District encompasses both the Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods casinos.
Similar to legislation she introduced last year – which died in the last legislative session – Osten’s new bill would direct Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont to begin talks with the tribes concerning brick-and-mortar and digital gaming operations. Among the goals proposed in the bill are the creation of a tribal casino in Bridgeport, the opening of “entertainment zones” in Hartford, New Haven and other to-be-determined localities that would offer sports wagering, and providing the tribes with the exclusive right to offer Connecticut-based online gaming and sports wagering on computers and mobile devices.
The bill would also enable the tribes to begin offering sports wagering at all tribal-owned locations, including the proposed East Windsor casino that has been stalled following a lawsuit filed by MGM Resorts International. It would further give the Connecticut Lottery the ability to offer online and app-based lottery ticket sales and to offer iKeno.
Osten forecast her bill would generate approximately $90 million a year in additional revenue for Connecticut by updating the 1993 state law that only requires the tribes to pay the state 25% of their slot machine revenue. The bill sets an Oct. 1 deadline for Lamont to conclude negotiations with the tribes.
At a press conference yesterday, Osten praised the tribes as an economic engine for her section of state.
“In eastern Connecticut, they are absolute partners in the region,” she said. “Helping out nonprofits, helping out municipalities, doing a variety of things.”
Max Reiss, the governor’s communications director, told the Connecticut Mirror that the administration was “reviewing the proposal and will discuss this issue during the regular session.”
Osten’s bill effectively prohibits nontribal entities from participating in casino and sports wagering operations in the state. MGM Resorts, which operates casinos across the borders in Yonkers and Springfield, vowed to fight for a stake in Connecticut’s gaming industry.
“MGM continues to be interested in opportunities in Connecticut, and we strongly believe that the best path for Connecticut, whether in establishing sports betting or moving ahead with a third casino in the state, is an open, competitive process,” the company said in a statement.
“As we have said consistently,” it continued, “if Connecticut is to maximize the economic impact of a commercial casino license, a transparent, competitive process is in the state’s best interest. That is equally true for sports betting, and the most direct path to bring the greatest results for Connecticut taxpayers, economic growth and state revenue. MGM will also continue to pursue all legal options, including litigation, to defend our right to compete in Connecticut.”
Osten’s legislation comes at a time when the state’s gaming industry is showing signs of fraying. Mohegan Sun reported net revenues for fiscal year 2019 of $992 million, down from the nearly $1.1 billion it took in the previous fiscal year, while net revenues at Foxwoods were $787.8 million, from $828.9 million generated in fiscal year 2018.
Competition from neighboring states have been blamed for the tribes’ recently declining casino revenues. However, the situation is not entirely copacetic in the other states.
On the Massachusetts side, Encore Boston Harbor ended December with $54 million in gaming revenue for the month, its best monthly performance since its June opening. The slots-only Plainridge Park Casino took in $10.2 million and MGM Springfield brought in less than $19 million. The Springfield casino has gotten off to a particularly rough start. It marked its first anniversary in business last August with $252.8 million in gambling revenue, far below the $412 million that the company projected for its first year in Springfield.
In Westchester, MGM Resorts acquired Empire City Casino last year for approximately $850 million, but has yet to get a license from the state’s gaming commission to expand its offerings beyond slot machines and electronic table games. Jim Murren, chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts International, told The Business Council of Westchester’s annual dinner in October that the delay was unsatisfactory.
“I don’t want to be in the commodity business,” Murren said at that event. “Anyone can run a slot machine house or manage somebody else’s property. We feel like what we do very well is develop an entertainment environment. And, if we don’t feel that we can make that differentiating edge, we don’t need to be in every gaming market. And, we’re not in all of them.”