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Poll shows wide support for competitive casino bids

December 14, 2018

A poll commissioned by MGM shows what the casino company has argued for years, that Connecticut voters prefer an open, competitive process for the right to build a commercial casino.

When given the choice between granting a new casino license through open bidding or through an exclusive deal with the two tribes that operate casinos in southwestern Connecticut, 71 percent favored an open process, according to the poll conducted by The Mellman Group, a Washington, D.C. research and strategy firm. That included 54 percent who said they felt strongly about the open bids.

Twenty percent in the poll of 500 registered voters said they favored an exclusive right for the tribes.

The poll, conducted by cell phones and landlines between Nov. 13 and 18, is being released Friday by MGM. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points for the full group, more for subgroups.

The results held up at 61 percent to 29 percent even when the voters were told that the tribes would immediately stop making payments to the state that now total $250 million, and that those payments, totaling $7 billion over the last 25 years for state and local governments, would be lost.

The results showed favorability toward an open bidding process ranging from 67 percent to 79 percent for both genders, both parties as well as independent voters, for white, African American and Latino voters, for voters over age 39 and for residents of Hartford, New Haven, Litchfield and Fairfield counties. Younger voters favored open bidding by 62 percent, the poll showed.

Remarkably, voters in eastern Connecticut favored an open bidding process by 60 percent to 25 percent, the poll showed. Mellman did not publicly report results for New London County, home of Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun, owned and operated by the Mashantucket and Mohegan tribes.

Supporters of the tribes’ right to expand in East Windsor, including most lawmakers from southeastern Connecticut, say an open bidding process would amount to an unfair attack on the tribes, which currently employ about 15,000 people and have been strong partners in the state for more than 20 years.

MGM will argue at the state Capitol in 2019 that the poll shows support for a bill it favors, seeking state-sanctioned bids from any developers for a commercial casino on non-tribal land. MGM hopes to build a $675 million casino on Bridgeport Harbor. In 2017, the General Assembly approved a license in East Windsor for MMCT, a joint venture of the Connecticut tribes.

That project awarded the license to MMCT without seeking outside bids because the tribes hold an exclusive right to run casinos in the state in exchange for 25 percent of slot machine revenues. The project remains tied up in a lawsuit over federal approval and MGM vows to refile a federal lawsuit in an effort to stop it, if moves forward.

“It’s very clear you just have overwhelming support in principle on the open competitive bidding process,” said Michael Bloomfield, managing director for Mellman. “When we have arguments on both sides, there still is that support.”

That lack of movement when the wording of the question changes is rare in polls, Bloomfield said.

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