bipartisan group of state lawmakers announced Wednesday a long-sought deal with Connecticut’s two tribal casinos to establish a gambling site in Bridgeport, but Gov. Ned Lamont was not involved in drafting the legislation and said it has numerous shortcomings.
Also, the Chief Executive Officer of Sportech, the operator of off-track betting in Connecticut, said a provision giving exclusive authority to the Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort casinos for sports wagering could invite a lawsuit.
In addition to backing a casino in Bridgeport, the legislation —named the ‘Connecticut Jobs and Revenue Act’ by the group— expands gambling by authorizing the Connecticut Lottery to offer online and app-based lottery ticket sales and to offer iKeno. The tribes also would conduct sports betting at the casinos, via mobile apps and internet gambling.
Sen. Cathy Osten, a Sprague Democrat and strong supporter of the Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort casinos, said she has requested a special legislative session for later this year to take up the measure, according to Hartford Courant. A spokesman for the Senate’s majority Democrats said a decision has not yet been made on scheduling a special session.
Lamont’s communications director, Max Reiss, said the governor received the draft legislation only last week. “A matter of such significance requires substantial involvement from multiple stakeholders, in particular the executive branch,” he said. The measure is “not good enough” because it authorizes, rather than requires, a meaningful project in Bridgeport, Reiss said. He also said the governor wants a “global resolution that mitigates the likelihood of years of litigation."
The prospect of a lawsuit hovers over any deal between the state and the Mohegans, who operate the Mohegan Sun, and Mashantucket Pequots, who run Foxwoods. MGM Resorts, which operates casinos in Springfield and Yonkers, N.Y., has considered Bridgeport as a site for a casino. A spokesman said MGM would not comment. However, MGM said in previous years it would “vigorously advocate in the courts" to protect the constitutional right of companies doing business in Connecticut and insisted on a competitive process in the selection of a casino.
The legislation places all of the financial risk on the tribes. If a court overturns any part of the law, the bill is rescinded. The prospect of a lawsuit was raised by Richard McGuire, Sportech’s CEO who said sports betting licensing should be awarded equally to state gambling operators. “Any deviation from that creates [a] legal challenge and does a massive disservice to the constituents of Connecticut,” he said.
Rep. Christopher Davis, R-Ellington, said a coalition emerged to support the legislation. Bridgeport would benefit from jobs and economic development and the two casinos could capitalize on online and sports gambling “that they’ve been pushing for for years,” he told reporters.
Sen. Osten said lawmakers from delegations representing Bridgeport, southeast Connecticut and East Windsor, where the two tribes are planning another casino to stem traffic to the MGM Springfield casino, were key players in drafting the legislation. “I believe the problem was we were not cohesive in our messaging,” she said. “Now we have the combined effort of three delegations.”
Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, and James Gessner, interim chairman of the Mohegan Tribe, said they are “extremely grateful for the bipartisan support.” “We’ve long believed that the best way forward for the state is to protect and preserve the historic partnership with our two tribes, one that’s generated more than $8 billion in revenue for Connecticut,” they said. Compacts with Connecticut give the tribes exclusive rights for slot machines in return for paying the state 25 percent of the proceeds. In the state budget year that ended June 30, that amounted to nearly $253 million.
The legislation calls for the tribes to spend a minimum of $100 million on the Bridgeport site that would be an anchor for private development around the casino facility that would bring the total project development to $300 million. It's estimated to generate $15 million annually for the state.It also calls for a 10 percent contribution from a Bridgeport casino to the state’s tourism marketing fund.
Lawmakers said casino is expected to create 500 permanent jobs and 1,000 construction jobs. The bill would also allow the tribes to take part in the development of entertainment zones in Hartford and two other cities, which would create 100 jobs per facility.
Osten said the state needs to act in response to declining casino revenue as competition increases. The latest entrant in the market was Encore Boston Harbor, a $2.6 billion gambling, hotel and entertainment complex that opened June 23 in Everett, Mass. MGM Springfield launched in August 2018.
In the fiscal year that ended June 30, Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods posted revenue of about $1 billion, down nearly 7 percent from the previous year. In comparison, the two casinos posted $1.7 billion in revenue in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2007.