The casino battle between Connecticut and Massachusetts took a new twist as the head of MGM Resorts International, which is building a gambling venue across the border in Springfield, Massachusetts, proposed establishing a new Connecticut casino in Bridgeport.
In an op-ed column published in the Connecticut Post, MGM Resorts International Chairman and Chief Executive Jim Murren, a native of Bridgeport, claimed that “Bridgeport has always been on our radar screen” for an MGM-branded casino, but was not previously pursued because the state limited gaming to tribal lands. However, now that there is movement for a third casino outside of tribal lands, Murren proposed bringing it to the shoreline city.
“We recognize that Bridgeport was, and is, a lynchpin for Fairfield County, and for the state,” he wrote. “With its proximity to the New York market, a casino in southwest Connecticut could sustain a meaningful investment and generate hundreds of millions of dollars in annual economic activity for the benefit of every citizen in the state — far exceeding the alternative being considered, by bringing more than double the number of jobs and triple the revenue.”
Murren added a personal debt of gratitude to Bridgeport, noting it “welcomed my family when they emigrated from Ireland in the late 1800s and early 1900s (and) it is the city where I was born.” He stressed that Bridgeport is “fighting to recover from a dearth of major private investment” and is burdened with a 7.1 percent unemployment rate that is higher than the 4.7 percent statewide rate, and dropped a not-subtle hint about opening the casino development process to a competitive bidding rather than limiting the business to the state’s federally recognized Indian tribes.
“MGM is ready, willing and able to make a real investment in Bridgeport, and in Connecticut,” Murren wrote. “We would respond to an RFP process with detailed development plans for a first-class facility that would make Connecticut proud.”
But whether Bridgeport is eager for a casino is another matter. In an interview in March with the Business Journal, Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim recalled exploring the potential of casino development with Donald Trump during his mayoral tenure in the 1990s, but added that he now believed the value of casinos as an economic engine were only practical if they bolstered the communities surrounding the gambling venues.
“If it brings direct revenue back to the host community, that revenue becomes attractive along with the city becoming a destination,” he said. “A lot of people come in, go in the casino and drive out of town.”