Connecticut Legislature Passes East Windsor Tribal Casino Bill at Zero Hour

Posted on: June 7, 2017, 09:29h. 

Last updated on: June 7, 2017, 09:31h.

It’s game on for Connecticut’s contentious third casino. In the early hours of Wednesday morning, the state’s House of Representatives voted to approve SB 957, which would authorize construction of the state’s first casino outside tribal lands, in East Windsor, close to the border with Massachusetts.

Uri Clinton MGM Connecticut tribal casino challenge
Uri Clinton, senior vice-president and deputy general counsel for MGM, called Connecticut’s bill the “worst example” of how to form casino legislation. He vows his company will fight it in the courts. (Image: Christine Stuart/CTNewsJunkie)

Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy has indicated he will not veto the bill.

It’s one of the most controversial issues to be passed by the legislature in recent years, and this one went right down to the wire. As the clock ticked past the end-of-session midnight deadline, the House finally voted 103-46 to grant final legislative approval for the new casino.

It’s part of a gambling package that will also authorize the expansion of off-track betting, as well as laying the regulatory groundwork for the legalization of sports betting, should New Jersey’s legal challenge to PASPA prove successful in the Supreme Court.

Let’s Make a Deal

The bill’s passage did not come without some last-minute quid pro quo negotiation between the two chambers. The Senate’s approval, hours earlier, of a bill easing restrictions on mixed martial arts, a cause long-supported by the House but opposed in the upper chamber, signaled that a major agreement had been struck.

The vote represents a shocking turnaround in the House. Just two weeks ago, the casino proposal appeared to be on life support, when Democratic lawmakers indicated they did not have enough agreement to assure the bill’s passage.

There was a strong conviction in the House that any third casino should be subject to a bidding process that included commercial, out-of-state operators. MGM, which is currently constructing its MGM Springfield casino in Massachusetts, just 13 miles away from proposed site, agrees with this assessment.

But instead, there will be just one candidate: a joint enterprise known as MMC, formed by Connecticut’s two existing tribal operators, the Mohegans and the Mashantucket Pequots. The two tribes operate the Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods casinos, respectively, in the south of the state.

 Constitutional Challenge

MGM believes that the lack of commercial competition on private, non-tribal land equates to a violation of the Equal Protection and Commerce clauses of the Constitution, and will challenge the East Windsor casino in federal court.

“It’s Frankenstein,” Uri Clinton, MGM’s senior vice-president and legal counsel, told reporters after the vote. “It’s probably the worst example of how to form casino legislation. [Namely], how do you get the votes for a bill?’

“We will continue to vigorously advocate in the courts as we seek to protect the constitutional rights of any company hoping to do business in Connecticut,” Clinton added.