MGM declared war on Connecticut this week, vowing that it would fight the state’s efforts to build a casino along Interstate 91 on its northern border with Massachusetts.
The proposed property would be positioned near Hartford, CT, and just miles from Springfield, MA, where MGM has just broken ground on an $800 million casino resort project, expected to open in 2018.
Connecticut wants to get in there first, with a “satellite casino” that could be erected in much less time than MGM’s ambitious Vegas-style project. Connecticut lawmakers recently passed a bill permitting the constitutional adjustments needed to achieve this.
Bring it On!
“We’re not going to go peacefully,” declared William Hornbuckle, President of MGM Resorts International, in an interview with the Associated Press this week.
Hornbuckle, who, incidentally, was born and bred in Connecticut, didn’t care to elaborate on exactly what MGM had planned, suffice to say that he and his colleagues were “contemplating our options.”
“Bring it on, MGM,” said Connecticut Representative Stephen D. Dargan, blood pumping. “We’re in direct competition!
And another thing: “We’re serious about protecting our market share,” he added. “If they think they’re going to scare us with their tactics, they’re not.”
Thousands of Jobs
Connecticut has sanctioned two casinos on tribal lands in its southeast since the early nineties, in return for a portion of the profits.
Only the Mohegan tribe, which runs the Mohegan Sun, and the Mashantucket Pequot tribe, which runs Foxwoods, are permitted to operate casinos.
Both, however, were hit hard by the global economic downturn of 2008 and are each over $1 billion in debt.
MGM has made no secret of its desire to attract customers from Connecticut, and estimates that some 40 percent of footfall will come from the state.
Connecticut lawmakers are concerned about the potential loss of thousands of casino-worker jobs in the state as a result of increased competition from Massachusetts; Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun have laid off hundreds of workers to cut costs in recent years.
“Simply, this is about siphoning revenues from Connecticut to benefit a Las Vegas company while at the same time moving thousands of existing jobs from Connecticut to Massachusetts,” tribal leaders said last week. “That’s why the tribes, the legislature, and the governor have committed to developing a solution that protects Connecticut.”
“Box of Slots”
Jim Murren, CEO of MGM, and, strangely enough, also a Connecticut native, has been scathing about the project calling it, witheringly, “a box of slots.”
“I do give a damn about Connecticut because I’m from there,” he claimed early last year. “I just want their money to come here!”
While MGM’s threat to Connecticut’s plans is unspecified, it is possible that the company has some recourse for a legal challenge.
Connecticut attorney general George Jepsen has warned that a third party might claim that exclusive gambling rights to the tribes, in areas outside their sovereign lands, violates the Equal Protection Clause of the US Constitution.
It could also be in breach of the Commerce Clause because it would grant rights to conduct gambling “for the purpose of protecting in-state economic interests from interstate commerce.”
Maybe he should have kept that to himself.