East Windsor: a Connecticut above for casino location decision

Casino Review - Connecticut East Windsor USA
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The Mohegan Tribe and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation have decided on the location of a jointly-operated casino in Connecticut, with only state approval now needed for the project to proceed.


The Mohegan Tribe and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation have come to a decision on the location for a jointly-operated casino in Connecticut.

The choice of East Windsor was made by the joint Mohegan-Mashantucket Pequot company, MMCT Venture, reflecting their aim to keep up with growing competition in the region, in light of upcoming MGM Springfield Casino in Massachusetts.

“MGM will do whatever they can to generate whatever shareholder revenue they can, even if it means crippling a celebrated Connecticut industry,” said Mashantucket Pequot chairman Rodney Butler. “They would love to see us give up instead of fighting back. But we’re not going to do that.”

The joint venture seeks to build a $300m Las Vegasstyle property near Connecticut’s northern border as part of a deal which guarantees the city a $3m initial payment from MMCT and at least $3m per year in additional revenue, although the company estimates this figure will be closer to $5.5m.

It had been suggested that the Springfield casino could draw away $68m from Connecticut in its first year, and cost the state 9,300 jobs.

The proposed East Windsor location will put the new venture just 13 miles from the MGM premises, and the tribes have stated their hope that the project will help ensure casino spend is kept in state.

Mohegan chairman, Kevin Brown, stated that the announcement is a critical step towards the goal of saving the state’s jobs and revenues.

“I’m here to tell you the sky is blue,” Brown said, speaking at a press conference. “Tomorrow, MGM will tell you all the things we told you today are not true and the sky is purple.”

The two tribes already operate separate casinos on their reservations within the state. The Mohegan Tribe operate the Mohegan Sun, and the Mashantucket the Foxwoods Resort Casino, with both facilities lying around 60 miles from East Windsor. Between the premises the tribes have the exclusive rights to Class III games, and in exchange they share a quarter of their slot gaming proceeds with the state.

MGM Resorts has criticised Connecticut over the process to approve and build the casino, saying that it did not have an opportunity to compete in the tender. The casino giant also claims that while the development has been approved by the city administration, East Windsor voters would reject the casino deal if it was put to a citywide referendum.

“Local residents deserve to vote this plan up or down in a referendum,” said MGM spokesman Bernard Kavaler.

MGM argues that in permitting the tribes to go ahead with a new casino on non-tribal land the state has allowed for the creation of a casino monopoly, however the company’s legal challenges against the new casino have so far been unsuccessful.

A significant hurdle for the project lies in the casino receiving a gambling permit from the state. Previous tribal casino developments in the state have all taken place on tribal land which is subject to federal legislation.

The legality of Connecticut’s proposed third casino has been further called into question after the state’s governor asked his attorney general for a formal opinion on the matter.

Govenor Dannel Malloy asked attorney general George Jepsen whether the new tribal casino would survive a legal challenge by casino operator MGM Resorts as well as a review by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The question remains whether the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) allows the tribes to operate a casino not located on tribal lands. Connecticut legislators are currently mulling enabling legislation that would allow the East Windsor project to proceed, as well as a rival bill that would open up the third casino licence to a public tender.

Last April, the Bureau of Indian Affairs sent the tribes a letter saying its initial examination of the third casino proposal revealed no conflicts with either the state compact or IGRA, however this opinion is not legally binding.

Jepsen has yet to comment on the issue, but in a 2015 memo he urged legislators to tread lightly on the casino issue due to the “uncertainty and the attendant risks … to the current arrangements” with the tribes.

Several legislators have also spoken out against the location of the project, instead arguing in favour of situating the casino in southwestern Connecticut, aiming to take advantage of the lucrative New York gambling market.

Representative Christopher Rosario characterised the proposed site location as “short sighted”, and is lobbying for the casino to be built in Bridgeport, the state’s largest city and site of previous casino project proposals.

“You’d get a bigger bang for your buck, not only for the region but for the state if you put it in southwestern Connecticut,” he said.

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