Connecticut Tribes Abandon East Windsor Casino, Gov. Backs iGaming and Sports Betting

Posted on: December 9, 2020, 11:41h. 

Last updated on: December 9, 2020, 12:15h.

Connecticut’s two Native American tribes — the Mohegan Tribe and Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation — have called off their plans to jointly construct a satellite casino in East Windsor called Tribal Winds.

Connecticut casino East Windsor tribes
Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun’s joint casino project in East Windsor, Connecticut, is being indefinitely suspended. (Image: Tribal Winds)

The long-delayed $200 million-$300 million casino that was to house around 1,800 slot machines and 60 table games was approved in 2017 by the Connecticut General Assembly and then-Gov. Dannel Malloy (D). The satellite venue was designed to keep gaming dollars from flowing across the Connecticut-Massachusetts border to MGM’s $960 million integrated resort casino in Springfield.

Slot revenue at the tribes’ Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods casinos has declined for many years, as New England states continue to expand gambling. Connecticut has, as a result, received less gaming tax revenue.

There have been years of legal battles regarding the East Windsor project. MGM Resorts sued Connecticut for failing to hold a competitive bidding process for the East Windsor casino, and also for what the casino giant claimed was the state unlawfully legalizing commercial gambling.

“We’ve been through so many ups and downs when it comes to the Tribal Winds project,” the tribes explained in a joint statement. “There have been many moments where it was clear the easiest path would be to just walk away. And while there’s no way we could have accounted for this latest delay, we still believe Tribal Winds is a viable project that will come to fruition once markets improve and we’ve taken concrete steps toward restoring normal business operations.”

But, for now, the tribes say Tribal Winds is being permanently put on hold.

Tribal, State Unity

Connecticut’s two tribes have been at odds with some state lawmakers and Gov. Ned Lamont (D) over the last two years.

Lamont, governor since January of 2019, has favored the tribes folding on the East Windsor project to avoid future litigation with MGM Resorts. The governor believes such legal challenges would only further delay gaming expansion in the Nutmeg State.

Lamont instead favors the state working directly with the tribes on other expansion measures, such as sports betting and internet gambling.

This is something that’s going on all around us, and I think Connecticut should participate,” Lamont said this week. “If we found out anything in the course of this horrible COVID cycle, more and more of the world is going virtual, more and more of the world is going online.

“That’s telehealth and telelearning, but it’s also iGaming and sports betting. And I don’t think you want Connecticut left behind,” the governor added.

Online Gaming Beneficial

Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods have reported reduced gross gaming revenue during the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the past five months, Mohegan Sun’s slot win is down 7.4 percent compared with 2019, and Foxwoods 19.5 percent in the red.

In the tribes’ gaming compacts, they share 25 percent of their slot win with the state. Allowing the casinos to operate online would help offset some of the losses they’re incurring, as many people remain wary of visiting a casino.

“This feels like the stars are aligning,” said Mashantucket Pequot Chairman Rodney Butler regarding Lamont and the tribes’ positions on gaming expansion. “We’ve had ongoing conversations with the governor. He has been engaged, and we’re looking forward to getting into much more detailed conversations.”