Connecticut Commercial Casino Projects Won’t Jeopardize Tribal Compacts, Says State AG

Posted on: March 15, 2018, 04:00h. 

Last updated on: October 5, 2018, 12:03h.

The Connecticut commercial casino market can get a new jolt, attested the state’s Attorney General George Jepsen earlier this week. He told legislators that operators who want to open up shop in the state can explore that possibility without it jeopardizing two existing tribal gaming compacts.

Connecticut casino gambling East Windsor
Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen opined this week that when it comes to gambling expansion, commercial operators have opportunities, despite existent tribal agreements. (Image: Autumn Driscoll/Connecticut Post)

In written testimony, the attorney general told the Public Safety and Security Committee that the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes would still be required to share slot revenue from their two casinos, even if Connecticut lawmakers consider authorizing commercial gambling.

The committee received dozens of submitted testimonies on both sides of the argument. Jepsen said he tried to stay impartial in making his decision, and sees no legal roadblocks in moving ahead.

“Whether to go forward with the proposed legislation is, in my view, strictly a policy decision,” Jepsen stated. “As a legal matter, however, it is my opinion that the proposed legislation would not run afoul of our existing agreements with the Tribes.”

The committee assembled on Thursday to discuss House Bill 5305. Introduced by Reps. Chris Rosario (D-Bridgeport), Michael DiMassa (D-New Haven), and Ezequiel Santiago (D-Bridgeport), the legislation seeks to request proposals from commercial operators to build casinos in the state.

The bill, if passed, would also revoke a recently issued East Windsor casino license awarded jointly to the tribes.

The Public Safety and Security Committee is co-chaired by State Senator Tim Larson (D), who represents East Windsor and supports the tribal plan.

Taxing Situation

The terms of Connecticut’s tribal compacts mandate that the state receive 25 percent of net slot machine win generated at Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun. That tax revenue has greatly diminished in recent years, as states in the Northeast continue to expand gambling.

Connecticut collected $430 million in slot taxes in 2007. A decade later, and that number plummeted to $267 million last year, a decrease of 38 percent.

Lawmakers and tribes are concerned that continued expansion, most specifically in Massachusetts where MGM Resorts is readying to open its $960 million integrated casino resort in Springfield, will further hurt Connecticut gaming.

Last fall, Governor Dannel Malloy (D) signed a bill allowing the tribes to build a casino on non-sovereign land 13 miles south of MGM Springfield in East Windsor. The $300 satellite gaming facility site is just off Interstate 91, the main artery that travels across the Connecticut-Massachusetts border connecting Hartford and Springfield.

Agenda vs. Agenda

The East Windsor casino authorization comes with the stipulation that the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs formally recognize that the venue on non-sovereign land doesn’t void the current compacts. Under the state gaming contracts, the language declares that the tribes are no longer obligated to share slot revenue, should Connecticut expand gambling.

MGM contests that if the General Assembly wants to authorize a third casino, it should hold a competitive bidding process in order to get the best deal. The casino operator has submitted a blueprint to build a $675 million resort in Bridgeport, and that’s attracted some regional lawmakers into backing House Bill 5305.

Supporters of allowing the East Windsor casino to proceed say MGM is simply trying to stall progress on the satellite venue, hoping to open the Springfield resort without any competition close by.