Plan by Sen. Osten to get third casino built deserves consideration

December 18, 2018

A proposal by state Sen. Cathy Osten to get an East Windsor casino built — legislation co-sponsored by much of our area’s local delegation — deserves serious consideration from the General Assembly and Gov.-elect Ned Lamont.

Osten proposes bypassing the U.S. Department of Interior. Interior’s refusal to sign off on current state legislation allowing an East Windsor casino to be jointly operated by the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes has stalled the plans. The foot-dragging by Interior appears politically motivated, with lawmakers from Nevada having lobbied the agency on behalf of MGM.

MGM stands to lose if that East Windsor casino opens with the backing of Connecticut’s two tribal casino operators, owners of the Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort casinos. MGM Springfield, which opened in late August, seeks to attract patrons from the greater Hartford area. The intent of an East Windsor casino is to keep some of that business, and the resulting state revenue, in Connecticut.

Language in the legislation authorizing a third casino in the state required Interior approval to sidestep potential legal challenges.

The tribes send 25 percent of all slot revenues to Connecticut under the terms of the 1994 Tribal-State Compact. Since this new venture would go outside of the bounds of the original compact, the legislature wanted Interior, which is charged with Indian Affairs, to sign off.

Out-going State Attorney General George Jepsen has expressed concern the state’s existing revenue-sharing deal with the tribes could be endangered if the state authorized the tribes to proceed with a third casino without Interior approval.

Osten noted, however, that Michael S. Black, assistant secretary for Indian Affairs, wrote to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in September 2017, stating Interior action to approve a third casino plan “is unnecessary at this time” because the compact “will not be breached by this arrangement.”

After he takes office, it will be interesting to get Attorney General-elect William Tong’s opinion on the matter.

It is important that the legislature do all it can to keep jobs and the revenue stream in Connecticut. Together, the tribes are among the largest employers in the state, with about 12,000 workers at the two casinos. Both Connecticut casinos have seen revenues trending down since MGM Springfield opened. An East Windsor casino would protect Connecticut jobs.

MGM Springfield is off to a slower start than expected. That means there is time to get a third Connecticut casino built before MGM solidifies its patron base.

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