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Lawmakers roll out open-bidding bill for a Bridgeport casino

January 31, 2019

Lawmakers led by the Bridgeport delegation introduced a bill Thursday to form a Connecticut Gaming Commission and create competitive bidding for a resort-casino license, formally launching this year’s fight in one of the state’s most divisive issues.

Though Bridgeport is not explicitly mentioned in the bill, it will be the battleground as MGM Resorts International, a backer of the bill, has fought for years for the right to build a $675 million casino on the harbor in the state’s largest city.

The stated purpose of the bill is “to create a competitive bidding process for a resort-casino that would allow the state to choose a development with the most economic impact to the state.”

The Bridgeport delegation supported similar legislation last year that would have allowed an open bidding process. The bill narrowly passed in the House at the end of the session but did not get a vote in the Senate.

“Obviously last year it was a big priority for the Bridgeport delegation and it remains so this year,” said state Rep. Steve Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, who led the House debate. “We’re hopeful this year to get it across the finish line.”

The bill is co-sponsored by of the city’s legislators except Sen. Marilyn Moore, who has been an opponent of expanded commercial gambling. Moore is challenging Mayor Joe Ganim in a likely Democratic Party primary.

The debate over a Bridgeport casino is part of a larger, complex battle about how and whether Connecticut should expand legalized gambling. Two years ago the General Assembly approved what would be the state’s first commercial casino East Windsor — a $300 million project jointly developed by the tribes that own the Foxwoods Resort and Mohegan Sun casinos.

Earlier this week the two tribal chairmen announced the name of the East Windsor casino, “Tribal Winds,” and made an economic case for moving forward. The project is stalled, awaiting approval from the U.S. Department of the Interior.of a change in the agreement between the state and one of the tribes.

That casino was planned as a way to pick off customers heading to the MGM Springfield casino, which opened last summer 13 miles north of the planned East Winsdor site. MGM sued the state over the closed selection of the tribes’ partnership, known at MMCT Venture, and has said it will re-file that lawsuit if the casino moves forward.

Lawmakers who favor the tribes’ position have introduced a bill that would allow the tribes to move forward without federal approval — an issue now in federal court between the state and federal government. But that bill might not be adequate to get around federal rules, according to an opinion by then-Attorney General George Jepsen said in an opinion.

Also in the battle are sports betting and expanded online gaming, both of which are contested by numerous players in the industry.

Any casino approved for a developer other than the tribes would end the longtime, permanent pair of agreements bewteen the state and the tribes under which the tribes pay the state 25 percent of slot machine revenues. That will amount to about $240 million this fiscal year.

Backers of the open bidding process say bringing in outside bidders for expanded casinos, sports betting and online gaming would yield more money for the state as the take from the casinos is dropping.

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