Governor to Sign Connecticut Casino Bill

The Connecticut legislature has passed a bill that creates a process for the state’s gaming tribes to seek interested communities that might host a satellite casino. The legislation will be signed by Governor Dannel P. Malloy (l.), according to a spokesman.

The Connecticut House joined the Senate in approving of a process that could lead to a new casino jointly operated by the state’s two gaming tribes. Now the focus shifts to Governor Dannel P. Malloy. Spokesman Mark Bergman told the Associated Press the “governor fully intends to sign it into law.”

The final vote was 88-55, with some lawmakers in the southeastern part of the state objecting strongly.

The bill that passed both chambers creates a several step process that could lead to building a casino that would help the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes fend off competition from casinos due to come online in neighboring Massachusetts, but also in other nearby states.

The tribes operate Foxwoods Resort Casino and the Mohegan Sun that are about 70 miles from Springfield, Mass., where MGM is building a new casino resort due to open in the fall of 2017.

The final bill had been considerably revised from a bill that would have authorized three more satellite casinos. State Attorney General George Jepsen warned that the bill might violate the U.S. Constitution by only allowing just those tribes to build casinos when other tribes are waiting in the wings to get federal recognition—and could also breach the existing state tribal gaming compacts.

The bill as approved instead passes the ball to the tribes to work with a host community and come back to the legislature with an agreement that the lawmakers can approve or not. This would require amending state law to allow casino, i.e. non-reservation gambling. The existing casinos are on sovereign Indian land. Any agreement would also need the blessings of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The tribes would first issue a request for proposals for a single satellite casino. The location that has been talked about most often is along Interstate-91, strategically placed to intersect as much traffic heading south to Springfield as possible.

Three communities that have already expressed interest in hosting a satellite casino are East Windsor, Windsor Locks and East Hartford. All three are closer to Springfield than the existing tribal casinos.

For many legislators the issue has always been the loss of jobs if the state’s two casinos are hit hard by the competition from the Bay State. Especially competition from the MGM Springfield due to begin construction soon.

“I think we’re taking a strong position stating how important jobs are,” Rep. Stephen Dargan, co-chairman of the General Assembly’s Public Safety Committee, told CBS New York.

Rep. Linda Orange, a supporter, said before the vote, “The bill that’s coming down from the Senate is basically giving the two casinos the opportunity to work with towns and study the issues. I think that is acceptable, and the way we should probably move.”

Clyde Barrow, an expert on gaming in New England was hired by the tribes to produce a report that predicted a direct loss of 6,000 jobs from Foxwoods Resort Casino and the Mohegan Sun and half that many related jobs resulting from the opening of the MGM Springfield. This report strongly influenced many lawmakers.

It did not sway Rep. John Scott, whose district includes Foxwoods. He opposed the bill, arguing that the casino’s revenues have already fallen and it has nothing to do with competition from the Bay State.

He declared, “I’m not convinced that expanding gambling in other parts of the state is going to help eastern Connecticut where I come from.” Scott opposes casinos because he supposedly knows of people who have gambled away their life savings.

Rep. Jan Giegler, who also voted no, declared, “Balancing the state budget on the back of casino gaming is a recipe for disaster and is not the answer to our state’s fiscal crisis.” He added, “The socio-economic impact to our communities by expanding casinos is a grave concern, having the potential to hurt local businesses and to increase problem gambling. The lack of a specific location for the new facility must also be taken into account as we don’t want it in our backyard.”

But another lawmaker who represents both casinos, Rep. Mike France, told colleagues that he has only gotten solid support for the bill, especially from casino employees. “They are very happy with their jobs at the casinos and see them as good employers that take care of them.”

In May Malloy said, “What I believe is that the legislature can’t name a winner, that there has to be a process.”

The governor of Massachusetts, Charlie Baker, last week said that his state can do nothing about what Connecticut is planning, but opined that MGM is capable of dealing with the challenge.

“There are limits to what we can control in respect to what Connecticut does, but the MGM proposal is terrific and very well located to support the region in Massachusetts and New York and all the rest,” he told the Republican.

MGM has said that it is capable of opening before the fall of 2017 in order to deal with the challenge from Connecticut.

In a separate but related development, a federal judge has dismissed a $3 million lawsuit brought against Foxwoods Resort Casino by three Chinese nationals who claimed that the casino wrongfully denied them their winnings. The casino claimed they had been cheating at mini-baccarat.

The players, one of whom is nicknamed the “Queen of Sorts” used what they claimed is a legal method called card monitoring, but which the casino considers cheating. The lawsuit claimed that the casino knew that the players used this strategy to beat the House in Las Vegas and Atlantic City and let them play anyway.

The lawsuit was dismissed in federal court in New Haven, Connecticut. The judge did not rule on the merit of the case, but rather that the Mashantucket Pequot tribe, which operates the casino, has sovereign immunity from lawsuit.