Connecticut Tribes Ask Casino Regions to Schedule Referendums

The consortium that Connecticut’s gaming tribes, the Mashantucket Pequots and the Mohegans (chairmen Rodney Butler and Kevin Brown at left), has formed to build and operate a third casino in the state, MMCT Venture, has asked communities interested in hosting that casino to get a move on in passing approvals. That includes scheduling a referendum.

MMCT Venture, a joint venture of Connecticut’s two gaming tribes, has asked communities that have applied to be host communities to satellite casino that both tribes will run, to schedule referendums or to conduct other approvals as soon as possible.

MMCT sent a letter requesting the action to the communities of East Hartford, East Windsor, Hartford and Windsor Locks, all border communities.

Kevin Brown, chairman of the Mohegan Tribal Council, and Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council in the letter promised to reimburse the towns for holding the elections.

The letter says, in part, that revenues from the tribes’ two casinos, “are now in jeopardy because of the plans of a multi-national corporation to siphon both from our state. The historic partnership between the Mashantucket Pequots and the Mohegans aims to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

It continues, “At this point, we want you to know that we’ve received and are continuing to review a proposal from your municipality. We are now asking that you move forward with getting approval from your town and town leaders.”

In an interview with the Associated Press Mohegan Tribal Chairman Kevin Brown said, “We want this to be something that will be accepted by the community where it ultimately lands in,” adding, “We want this to be done the right way.”

The purpose of the third casino is to short circuit as much as possible the adverse effect on the Indian casinos of the $950 million casino resort planned by MGM Entertainment in Springfield and by Wynn Resorts in Everett, near Boston.

MMCT Venture is aiming to choose a host community by December 15. The legislature would need to approve any casino.

MGM Resorts has sued to prevent this from happening, and has brought in former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to lead its legal team.

Holder is challenging the constitutionality of the law that grants the tribes exclusive rights to operate a third casino.

MGM has also retained an army of lobbyists, led by the firm of Sullivan & LeShane to try to prevent the legislature from authorizing the casino next year.

The effort by MGM has been described by a lobbyist working for the tribes as “almost an obsession.” MGM’s business plan is based on getting one third of its players from Connecticut and presumably away from the Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods. A third Connecticut casino would alter those calculations dramatically.

The stakes are also high for Connecticut, whose state government has collected over $6.5 billion in taxes (25 percent of total revenue) since the two casinos opened.

Their revenues have declined over the years as more competition has sprung up in neighboring states.

When the state passed the law authorizing the satellite casino, MGM Executive Vice President Alan Feldman reacted with near fury: “All of sudden, up pops this bill,” he said. “It was astonishing and outrageous that only these tribes would be allowed by the state to operate a new casino.”

It is indeed rare for a state to restrict competition for a commercial gaming license to an Indian tribe. Holder asserts that doing so violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

William Hornbuckle, president of MGM, drew battle lines recently when he declared, “We’re not going to go peacefully.”

Nevertheless, delays that MGM have asked for, and which push the opening of the Springfield casino back to 2018, open a window of opportunity for the tribes—one they want to take advantage of as soon as possible.

Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Chairman Rodney Butler told the AP: It’s unclear how long it will take to secure the local approvals of the submitted sites. East Hartford’s Planning and Zoning Commission already approved a special permit, allowing the former Showcase Cinemas property to be used for a casino. On Oct. 20, the town council voted 7-1 to authorize the mayor to submit a proposal to the tribes for consideration.”

The possible host communities appear willing to cooperate.

Last week the newly elected Windsor Locks Board of Selectmen scheduled a December 15 hearing to discuss hosting a casino.

In East Windsor a member of the Board of Selectmen, Robert Maynard said, “If they want us to move forward with a referendum, we’ll do it.”