Editorial Casino needs open bidding, careful planning
One way or another, the prospects for a casino on the Bridgeport waterfront should become clearer in the next few months.
A group of lawmakers introduced a bill recently to form a Connecticut Gaming Commission and start a competitive bidding process for the right to build a new resort-casino. There’s no mention of Bridgeport, but MGM Resorts International has targeted the city as the site of a $675 million project.
Standing in the way has been a long-standing compact with two Indian tribes that provides a chunk of their casinos’ slot machine intake to the state in exchange for a promise not to allow any competitors. It’s a deal that has proven lucrative. But with the rise of new gaming options across state lines, some of them closer to most Connecticut residents than Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun, the issue has taken on new urgency.
What seems clear by now is that a third casino will be built in Connecticut — the question is where. Two years ago, legislators OK’d a $300 million project in East Windsor that would be jointly run by tribes that own the state’s existing casinos. But the U.S. Department of the Interior, whose approval is required, has held up development.
East Windsor might seem an odd choice, but the location seems mainly predicated on heading off potential customers from continuing north to Springfield, Mass., the site of MGM’s newest casino.
MGM, clearly, would prefer the East Windsor casino plan die a quiet death. As such, it made a splash in 2017 by proposing to build a Bridgeport casino, instead. That would have the benefit of a location closer to the state’s population centers and, not incidentally, in one of the nation’s richest area codes. It would also provide a boost to a city that needs one.
It remains uncertain whether MGM’s ultimate goal is to build in Bridgeport or simply to kill East Windsor. In the big picture, it shouldn’t much matter. Even as casino saturation may be setting in, with underwhelming returns at the newest operations, a third casino is the likeliest scenario for Connecticut.
An open bidding process as provided in the new bill would help ensure the best project wins. A seven-member gaming commission, appointed by the governor and legislative leaders, would review and evaluate bids and help ensure the best project moves ahead, and that whatever revenue is lost by breaking the compact with the tribes is made up.
Under any circumstances, casino gambling brings many downsides. The state must ensure help is available to prevent and treat problem gambling, and safeguards must be put in place to guard against other societal ills casinos can bring.
But this goes beyond Connecticut. More casinos are coming, and the state can’t simply pretend it isn’t happening. What it can do is plan properly and make the sure the best deal is struck. That’s what an open bidding process would help ensure.