State needs a new plan to combat MGM casino competition

October 3, 2018

It’s back in the hands of the state legislature.

Plans for construction of a third Connecticut casino in East Windsor have suffered a big setback because of a ruling by Judge Rudolph Contreras in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

This newspaper has persistently backed the plans for an East Windsor casino to be jointly operated by the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes, owners and operators of the Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort casinos.

Our motivation is protecting jobs and a major revenue source for Connecticut. A casino in the Greater Hartford area would provide competition to the newly opened MGM Resorts International casino in Springfield, Mass., helping keep more gaming dollars and jobs in Connecticut.

But language in the legislation that was passed to allow the jointly operated casino required U.S. Department of Interior approval. The fear was that if Interior did not approve the arrangement, the slot-revenue dollars that the casinos are now obligated to send to Connecticut — $270 million in 2017 — could be placed at risk.

After some foot dragging, Interior gave its approval to amend the Mohegan’s agreement with the state. It has not, however, acted on the amendment for the Mashantucket tribe, which technically has a different legal relationship with the state.

Judge Contreras ruled that Interior cannot be forced by Connecticut or the tribe to act on a Mashantucket amendment. Interior’s unwillingness to do so appears politically motivated, an indication of MGM’s political muscle.

Whatever the reason, it stops the third casino plan in its tracks. An appeal could drag on for who knows how long, with low odds of success.

A proposal by state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague deserves discussion. It would eliminate the requirement for Interior Department approval of the amended gaming agreements. After having benefited by the state’s approval of a third casino, it is hard to imagine the tribes using that situation to try to elude their slot-revenue obligations.

Any discussion on how to proceed should include how to go about introducing legalized sports betting in Connecticut, a matter that also must involve the tribal casino operators.

What the legislature should not do is pursue the fool’s gold of a Bridgeport casino, an idea MGM floats to further gum up the political works but which, in our opinion, has little likelihood of becoming a reality.


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