Connecticut Tribes Want No Part in Bridgeport Casino Bidding

Posted on: March 23, 2018, 03:00h. 

Last updated on: March 23, 2018, 03:35h.

While the Connecticut General Assembly may well issue a request for proposals to build a casino in Bridgeport, the two Native American tribes who run casinos in the state say they have no interest in being part of such a process.

Connecticut MGM Bridgeport casino
Mashantucket Pequot chairman Rodney Butler says that Connecticut’s tribes cannot support a bill that would allow for competitive bidding on a Bridgeport casino. (Image: Harriet Jones/WNPR)

Leaders of both the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes told legislators that while they could see the value in having a casino located in Bridgeport, they had no interest in competing against commercial casino companies.

At issue is an existing compact with the state that guarantees the tribes the exclusive rights to operate slot machines in Connecticut.

This position strays somewhat from statements made in December, when tribal leaders sent a letter to prominent members of the state legislature, saying that they wanted “to be a part of that discussion” if commercial casinos were going to be allowed in the state.

MGM Wants to Build in Bridgeport

Discussion of a potential Bridgeport casino originated with MGM Resorts. The gaming firm announced last year that it would like to build a $700 million resort in the city. However, that casino would require legislative action given the current exclusivity agreements with the state’s tribes.

Last week, the Public Safety and Security Committee of the General Assembly passed a bill that would allow the state to seek bids on a new casino. That bill would still need to pass full floor votes in Connecticut’s House of Representatives and Senate before any request for proposals could go out.

The tribes have vehemently opposed the bill. While their opposition softened slightly after the final version of the bill included protections that would allow plans for an East Windsor satellite casino to go forward, tribal leaders still say they are against the legislation.

“We appreciate the committee’s efforts to address the East Windsor repeal, but we can’t support the bill,” said Mashantucket chairman Rodney Butler. According to Butler, the position of the tribes had shifted from being “100 percent against” the bill to only “99 percent against it” now that their project in East Windsor had been protected.

Would Tribal Compact Survive a New Casino?

If the bill passes, it could set in motion a legal batter between the tribes and the state. While Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen has told legislators that the proposal wouldn’t impact the current compact, the tribes strongly disagree.

According to Betsy Conway, who serves as general counsel for the Mashantucket Pequots, payments from the tribes to the state would end the moment the state authorized a commercial casino, even before that venue opened. Currently, the tribes pay the state 25 percent of their slots revenue each month. In 2017, that added up to more than $270 million in payments to the state.

“Do you really want to forgo $270 million a year for three to five years?” asked Mohegan chairman Kevin Brown. “That would be quite a gap in Connecticut’s revenue stream.”

MGM praised the legislation’s progress, saying that their plan would be beneficial to the state.

“We continue to believe strongly that the proposal we have developed for a world-clas resort casino in Bridgeport, and the thousands of jobs and millions in revenue it would bring to the city, the region and the state is in Connecticut’s best interest,” said Uri Clinton, senior vice president and legal counsel for MGM.