OP-ED | The Valley of the Casinos
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Posted to: Analysis, Business, Economic Development, The Economy, Entertainment, Gaming, Jobs, Opinion, East Windsor
This endless casino war between Springfield and Greater Hartford is being cast by supporters of an East Windsor casino as one state vying to keep jobs the other state is stealing, but it’s not that. It’s a single cohesive region of two million people gleefully shooting itself in the foot.
My home isn’t a state or a county, but a long, wide valley that runs from New Haven through Middletown, Hartford, and Springfield all the way up to Northampton and Amherst and, at the very remotest edge, Greenfield. A border may split it in two, but the entire valley is a single interconnected ecosystem.
That is why Connecticut’s wearisome debate over putting a spite casino in East Windsor is so infuriating; we’re just hurting ourselves in the end.
There’s a lot that’s annoying and hypocritical about the push by the Mashantucket Pequots and the Mohegans to put a casino at the site of an old movie theater in East Windsor. It makes zero business sense unless the whole idea is to drive competitor MGM’s Springfield casino into the ground. The casino market is saturated, and revenues aren’t going to grow. There’s just not enough gambling money to go around, and there isn’t room for two casinos in our valley.
The casino won’t do much good for the town of East Windsor, despite all the flashy promises of jobs and a local economic boost. Only a fraction of the jobs will be reserved for East Windsor residents, and the location right by the highway means that gamblers will roll up, drop money, and leave.
The East Windsor casino won’t be built for the good of Connecticut, either, like the tribes claim. If they cared about that, the Mohegans wouldn’t have tried to put a casino in nearby Palmer a few years back. Sure, it will generate revenue that goes into the General Fund, thanks to the deal the state made with the tribes back in the 1990s. But at what cost? Will it really be worth it if the Springfield casino founders or fails?
Will we feel better if a project that is supposed to help revitalize a hard-luck post-industrial city on the river goes bad, leaving blocks and blocks of downtown empty? How can we look at Springfield and not see ourselves?
It’s like hoping something bad happens to a sibling who keeps annoying you, and then, when something bad does happen … it’s horrifying.
The whole cross-border feud we have going on with western Massachusetts is beyond stupid. Look. I’ve lived in a border town all of my adult life. I worked for twelve years in Springfield, I went to grad school in South Hadley, I cheer on a Springfield hockey team, and when we want to do something fun and cultural, we often head up to Northampton. But I live and work in Connecticut, and when I need to do some shopping, I almost always do it this side of the border.
Borders are lines on a map, but they loom large in our minds. Western Massachusetts is a mystery to lots of people in Hartford County, and the same is true of Connecticut for people from, say, Chicopee. It shouldn’t be that way. There are two million people who live in this valley, and there’s so much that unites us. We share a river, a geography, and a history. We depend on one another economically; what happens in Hartford affects what happens in Springfield, and vice versa. We share an international airport, interstate highways, and a major train line. Several Connecticut towns are part of the Springfield labor market area — including East Windsor.
Therefore, what’s good for one part of the valley is good for the whole of it — whether we call it the Connecticut Valley, the Quinnipiac Valley, the Tobacco Valley, the Pioneer Valley, or something else.
The links between the cities and towns of the valley are growing. Cross-border transportation solutions, often so elusive, are actually in the works. Soon you’ll be able to catch a commuter train from Hartford and New Haven to Springfield — and hopefully, someday, beyond. The so-called Knowledge Corridor initiative fosters cross-border ties between businesses and institutions. Students from Western Massachusetts can now take classes at Enfield’s Asnuntuck Community College for in-state rates, and Asnuntuck has agreements with several Springfield-area colleges that allow Asnuntuck graduates to transfer credits.
In light of all of this, the East Windsor casino proposal looks silly and petty. Legislators should scrap it. And, when they go to the new casino in Springfield, they’ll find people working there from Enfield, Suffield, Hartford, and, yes, East Windsor as well.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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