With MGM Springfield Smoke-Free, Connecticut Tribal Leaders Ponder Policy for East Windsor Casino

Posted on: August 14, 2018, 01:00h. 

Last updated on: October 5, 2018, 12:06h.

MGM Springfield is opening August 24, but smokers will need to extinguish their flames before entering the $960 million premises.

MGM Springfield East Windsor casino
The lion is in place at MGM Springfield, and so are the ashtrays outside. (Image: Don Treeger/Leon Nguyen/The Republican)

The Massachusetts Expanded Gaming Act passed in 2011 mandates that casinos maintain a smoke-free environment within the gaming establishment.

For leaders of the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot Native American tribes, that presents them with one possible advantage in keeping some Connecticut residents from commuting across the border to nearby Springfield.

The tribes, jointly operating as a venture known as MMCT, have been approved to build a satellite gambling venue on non-sovereign ground in East Windsor, Connecticut. The area where the $300 million casino is being constructed is just 13 miles south of MGM Springfield.

During a quarterly report call, Mohegan Gaming and Entertainment Chief Financial Officer Drew Kelley said the company has developed a “very well-thought-out plan” to reduce as much impact as possible MGM Springfield will have on its operations in Connecticut.

Smoking Importance

Privately held, Mohegan Gaming and Entertainment owns and operates, in addition to its namesake Mohegan Sun resort in Connecticut, Mohegan Sun Pocono in Pennsylvania, and Resorts in Atlantic City. The company is also invested in the ilani Resort in Washington, and is developing a multibillion-dollar integrated casino resort at Incheon International Airport in South Korea.

Mohegan is committed to defending its home turf, and believes it has recognized an element it can use to its advantage in trying to compete with the much larger MGM Resorts empire.

During the call, Kelley said the fact that MGM Springfield cannot allow gamblers to smoke on the casino floor is “a major factor.”

MGM shrugged off such claims, saying that “regional gaming competition, driving distance, weather, and socioeconomic conditions” impact a casino’s revenue performance, not the allowance of smoking.

Caesars CEO Mark Frissora disagrees. He said in 2017 that New Orleans’ decision to force his company’s Harrah’s casino to go smoke-free cost the venue almost $70 million in the first two years the ban was implemented.

Smoking Draw

The Mohegan and Mashantucket Indians finally received approval from the US Department of the Interior in June to proceed with the non-tribal casino. Connecticut lawmakers passed a bill approving the East Windsor casino on condition that the federal agency approved the revised compacts.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke never formally issued a response to the state’s petition. Interior Department Principal Deputy of Indian Affairs John Tahsuda said in filed Federal Register documents that his superior’s inaction effectively approved the tribal gaming compact amendments.

The tribes unveiled plans in February showing the casino will feature 2,000 slot machines, up to 150 table games, and a five-story parking garage. The venue is also to include approximately 100,000 square feet of food and beverage, retail, entertainment, and back of house space.

While the East Windsor casino is to keep Connecticut residents’ gambling dollars at home, with smoking, the venue could actually draw some smokers from Massachusetts. In Maryland, the Live! Casino opened in May a covered outdoor smoking lounge to better compete with rival MGM National Harbor.