Connecticut Tribal Gaming Exec Says a Hartford Area Casino Site Will Be Announced within Days
Executives for Connecticut’s two tribal casinos, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, said an announcement about the location of a third casino is only days away. The announcement comes after a year of planning and negotiations.
During a legislative hearing on the issue, Kevin Brown, chairman of the Mohegan Tribal Council, said that the announcement would come “in the coming days, not weeks or months.” Brown’s comments came during a 4-hour meeting organized by the public safety committee.
Public Safety Committee Hearings
In Connecticut, the Public Safety Committee oversees casino gambling for the legislature. The hearings were called by committee members to hear ideas for the expansion of gambling in Connecticut. In 2015, the Connecticut legislature approved a joint venture by the Mashantucket Pequod and Mohegan tribes, which own the state’s two casinos.
Their joint venture is named The Mashantucket Pequots and Mohegans Connecticut joint venture (MMCT).
That third casino is planned for the Hartford area, near the Connecticut-Massachusetts border. The proposed casino would be smaller than Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun. Instead, it would be a satellite casino mainly with slot machines — “slots in a box” — in order to keep gamblers in and around Hartford from visiting the MGM Springfield casino, which is planned to open in 2018.
Kevin Brown of Mohegan Sun
Kevin Brown’s remarks were designed to tamp down discussions of a more open-ended licensing process. Residents of Hartford started a petition months ago to convince the legislature to make the casino licensing process more open-ended, like the ones which transpired in the last few years in neighboring New York and Massachusetts. The Foxwoods/Mohegan Sun alliance, longtime rivals in the state, want to start development before that issue ripens.
When the legislature approved a Foxwoods/Mohegan Sun casino in 2015, it gave the tribes the exclusive right to build a casino in the state. They have proposed a $950 million casino development, but the process is not as simple as a single pro-casino bill by the full body of the legislature. Important committees must approve off-reservation casinos in the state.
Rep. Joe Verrengia’s Comments
State Rep. Joe Verrengia, who serves as co-chairman of the Public Safety and Security Committee, seemed to view the proceedings as less settled than Kevin Brown. Rep. Verrengia said after the meeting, “The question of opening up and having a competitive process is something to consider seriously. This has to be part of our due diligence.”
The committee is a key hurdle for the tribes, because they must clear any casino developments off tribal lands. The tribes have been looking for property in the area for their casino development. News reports have focused on negotiations with local communities, along with the residents who might or might not want to have a casino nearby.
Hartford Residents’ Casino Petition
The residential petition is not the first time people have complained that the tribal casino interests received favorable treatment. MGM Resorts filed a lawsuit against the state of Connecticut, saying their licensing process was discriminatory.
MGM Resorts Lawsuit
MGM Resorts claimed they were interested in building a casino in the southwestern part of the state, near New York City. MGM Resorts’ lawyers claimed that Connecticut’s lawmakers rejected those notions, only to reverse course and give preferential treatment to the in-state gaming interests. MGM Resorts claims that is illegal.
Connecticut state spokemen and the tribes argue that the MGM Resorts lawsuit was a stalling tactic. With the MGM Springfield in development, stalling the construction of a Hartford-area satellite casino might allow the Springfield casino time to build a customer base inside northeastern Connecticut.
Uri Clinton on Casino Licensing
Uri Clinton, SVP and legal counsel for MGM Resorts, said of the MMCT joint venture, “The choice (of the tribes) was either do something that we want you do to do or do nothing. I actually say the choice is different.”
Mr. Clinton urged the committee to accept proposals from other interested parties. He said that would allow the lawmakers to compare those proposals side-by-side.
Predicament for Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods
Such a proposal is anathema to the Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods. Both casinos once were among the biggest and most lucrative in the world, but that was in the 1990s and early 2000s, before New York State, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania built casino industries. Gamblers from those states flocked to the tribal casinos of Connecticut.
Now, Connecticut casino executives and legislators are trying to preserve the own residents’ gaming revenues. The satellite casino was compared to a firewall to keep Connecticut gamblers in-state. With Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun each facing multi-billion dollar debts, neither wants to compete against a big Las Vegas casino company like MGM Resorts, which would have the money to fund a bigger and casino.
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