Connecticut Budget Bill May Compensate East Windsor For Casino Loss

Posted on: June 14, 2021, 01:27h. 

Last updated on: July 5, 2021, 08:36h.

Connecticut lawmakers are considering allocating millions of dollars annually to East Windsor after the town lost out in the state’s expansion of tribal gaming.

Connecticut East Windsor casino compact
The former site of Showcase Cinemas in East Windsor pictured above. Connecticut lawmakers are considering adding a $3 million payment to the town for its exclusion from the state’s tribal expansion of  gambling. (Image: Journal Inquirer)

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D) last month signed new Class III gaming compacts that allow the state’s two federally recognized tribes to add online gambling and mobile sports betting.

The contracts give the Mohegan Tribe and Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation a competitive advantage over commercial casinos in Massachusetts, which are not permitted to engage in sports betting nor iGaming.

While Lamont and the tribes celebrated the new gaming terms, a stipulation in the compacts delivers a major blow to East Windsor, the town where the two tribes were once set to jointly construct a new casino property. 

East Windsor Suspension

In 2017, the Connecticut General Assembly and then-Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) approved a bill to allow the tribes to jointly build a $300 million casino in East Windsor with 1,800 slot machines and 60 table games. Dubbed Tribal Winds, the 2017 law was in response to new competition in Massachusetts, primarily MGM Resorts’ $960 million integrated resort in Springfield, which is just a few miles north of the Massachusetts-Connecticut border.

The 2017 bill would have required the tribes’ new entity — MMCT Venture, LLC — to pay East Windsor $40 million over the first five years of operation. The casino was also expected to spur regional economic growth.

But the Lamont law that changes the tribal compacts includes the following:

“Current law authorizes the operation of an off-reservation casino gaming facility in East Windsor, Connecticut, by MMCT Venture, LLC, which is a company jointly owned and operated by the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes. The bill delays this authorization through the 10-year initial term of the bill’s State-Tribal agreements,” the compact language declares.

State lawmakers are in a special session this week finalizing the 2022-2023 biennial budget. Sen. Catherine Osten (D-Sprague), a senator who chairs the influential Appropriations Committee, wants to set aside $3 million a year for East Windsor. The sum would serve as compensation for missing out on the tribal casino.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Osten said. Osten says the state should pay East Windsor $3 million until the former Showcase property is sold or redeveloped by the tribes. 

Vacant Property

Tribal Winds was planned for the former Showcase Cinema site, located just off Interstate 91. It’s a prime piece of real estate, but it is delivering far fewer property taxes to the town since its movie theater closed and the venue was demolished.

The vacant theater complex still delivered East Windsor roughly $130,000 a year in property taxes after Showcase closed in 2008. But that number diminished to $80,000 after the tribes demolished the building to make way for its casino.

East Windsor First Selectman Jason Bowsza says the town wants the tribes to develop the property into something like apartments or a big-box store, or sell it to someone who will.

As for Osten’s budget proposal, Bowsza says he appreciates the senator keeping in mind East Windsor’s loss in the new gaming compacts. But he also doesn’t want the site to remain vacant for 10 years.