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Senate Forwards Watered-Down Casino Bill To House

by | May 20, 2015 10:35pm () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share
Posted to: Business, Gaming, Town News, East Hartford, East Windsor, Enfield, Windsor Locks, Jobs, Labor, Tribes

Christine Stuart photo A majority of Senators felt that the benefits of allowing Connecticut’s two federally recognized tribes to open up one casino north of Hartford would outweigh the risks recently outlined by Attorney General George Jepsen’s office.

The bill, which is a watered-down version of the original legislation that would have allowed the two tribes to build up to three new casinos, would require the tribes to enter a development agreement with a municipality first before returning to the General Assembly for approval of a satellite casino. It passed the Senate on a 20-16 vote Wednesday evening after about an hour of debate.

The hope is that a casino in north-central Connecticut would help prevent gamblers from leaving the state and heading north to the new, $800 million MGM Springfield casino that is scheduled to open in late 2017.

Proponents of the casino bill sought approval from Jepsen’s office, but Robert Clark, special counsel to the attorney general, was unable to put to rest lawmakers’ concerns. In a May 19 email, Clark outlined the lingering concerns with the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation opening a casino outside their reservations in southeastern Connecticut. The email said that if the tribes ask the U.S. Department of the Interior for guidance, the state could risk losing its portion of the slot revenues it currently receives from the two casinos.

Opponents felt the legislation was unnecessary and risky.

Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, who opposed the legislation, said the tribes are more than welcome to talk to municipalities about where they want to open a casino. He said they don’t need the legislature’s support to do that.

“What this bill does is say: we as a legislature are asking you as a tribe and you as municipalities, if you’re interested, to get together and work hard with the Department of Consumer Protection . . . to put forth a project that we don’t know if we can pass,” Fasano said. “That we don’t know if we can legally do.”

He said what they do know is that Jepsen said in an April 15 memo that there are significant problems in allowing the tribes to build a casino outside the reservations. Those hurdles may be insurmountable, Fasano said.

“Given the unique nature and history of the state’s gaming relationships with the tribes, there is very little in the way of legal precedent or guidance that allows for a confident analysis of these complex and uncertain legal questions,” Jepsen wrote in his April 15 memo to lawmakers.

A footnote in that letter says Jepsen’s office would be “unable to predict with any certainty how a court would resolve such issues.”

Fasano said that footnote should be a “red flag.” He said that as a lawyer, if he tells his client that, he’s hoping they will heed his advice and decide not to proceed.

What’s at stake? The 25 percent in slot revenue the state currently gets from the two tribes. It’s amounts to about $280 million a year in revenue for the state budget.

But proponents argue that it’s about keeping that revenue — and casino jobs — in the state.

Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said it’s not a complicated issue, but it takes people a little bit of time to get there. He said people need some time to understand the state would lose jobs, if the state takes no action.

A consultant hired by the tribes found that if they only received permission to build a $300-million casino in north-central Connecticut, it would generate $300.9 million in gross gaming revenue and create more than 2,000 jobs.

The same consultant estimated that Connecticut’s casinos could lose up to 9,300 jobs by 2019 to Massachusetts and New York, if the state fails to do anything in response to new gambling facilities in those states.

Duff said they’ve worked hard to protect the revenue that the state of Connecticut enjoys through its relationship with the two tribes, and he said they have listened to the concerns of opponents. As a result, he said, they made it a longer process than initially proposed.

“Our goal from the outset has been to protect the 9,300 jobs and revenue that will be lost to competition on Connecticut’s borders, and we believe this bill, if approved, will give the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot Tribes the ability to begin to take action to do so,” Patty McQueen, a spokeswoman for the tribes, said.

The bill now goes to the House for approval.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who has tried to stay out of the casino debate pointing out that it’s a legislative proposal, said Wednesday that the legal hurdles presented by Jepsen are “substantial” and “need to be satisfied.”

“This is not my legislation,” Malloy said. “This is not my fight.”

Workers from the two casinos have been outside the Senate chamber for the past two days talking to lawmakers to let them know what would happen if they don’t pass the legislation. Three pit managers said they would likely have to seek employment at a casino in Massachusetts or New York if Connecticut decides not to build another casino to attract business.

Thomas Tomillo, a pit manager at Mohegan Sun, said some gamblers are more convenience-oriented and will head to the closest casino, even if the amenities of another casino a few miles down the road are attractive.

Tomillo said he loves the casino industry and will move if he has to in order to maintain his employment. If that happens Connecticut will lose the taxes he pays and everything he contributes to the community.

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Comments

(9) Archived Comments

posted by: DrHunterSThompson | May 21, 2015  7:50am

Seems a bit like a roll of the dice.

HST

posted by: MyOpinion | May 21, 2015  8:14am

Gambling is NOT a productive creation of good jobs.  It creates more problems.

posted by: justsayin | May 21, 2015  8:52am

Anyone know how many casino jobs in CT now? 9,300 loss in 3.5 years seems like alot.

posted by: justsayin | May 21, 2015  8:56am

They plaNed on CT gamblers in their proposal. Everyone is sharing the same people and money. The problem is nobody has enough of either. The state should not support this follow Jerseys lead and walk away.

posted by: CTforLife5 | May 21, 2015  9:35am

I am very happy and relieved that his bill passed. We can’t let Massachusetts directly dictate to us how many of our middle class can have jobs and how much money our state collects in revenue each year. It’s up to us to fight back and secure our economic future for ourselves. It is great that this bill passed because it protects good jobs, our budget, and our tourism industry.

posted by: Biff Winnetka | May 21, 2015  9:54am

“For The Jobs!” has become in the 2000’s what “For The Children!” was in the ‘90’s.

Both were scams perpetrated by charlatans.

posted by: GinaFitz | May 21, 2015  10:40am

These are real jobs for real people, which in the mind of many far outweigh any percieved danger by the AG’s office.  There are details to be hammered out for sure, but we must not lose sight of the competitive marketplace we are in, and those who need work.

posted by: One and Done | May 21, 2015  11:26am

The race to the bottom continues.  Full steam ahead.

posted by: johnnyb | May 21, 2015  9:10pm

This whole jobs salesjob is BS. The gaming industry is based on people losing! Some of those folks blow their family savings others embezzle their lost money from their employers, non-profits, town jobs, and the like. Our State politicians should have their pay docked to reimburse all parties affected by lost money at our casinos.

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