Doubling Down: Legislature Mulls Three New Casinos
Connecticut will roll the dice on a proposal to allow three more casino gaming facilities, with the first slated to be built at an as-yet unspecified spot along the Interstate 91 corridor.
At a press conference Tuesday, legislators, representatives from both the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes, and labor advocates spoke about the competition Connecticut faces from an increased number of gaming facilities in neighboring states.
“Massachusetts has declared war on us and we are going to fight back,” Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said.
A proposed casino in Springfield, Mass., will be open and ready for business in two-and-a-half years, Duff said. The hope is to have a new Connecticut facility north of Hartford up and running within that timeframe.
The two tribes will be cooperating on this venture, and local approval must still be sought. The bill being introduced Tuesday will pave the way for that approval.
House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, who was not present at Tuesday’s press conference, expressed support for the proposal, though with some reservations.
“I am supportive of the tribes’ pursuit of a new facility that would be a direct defensive move in response to the Massachusetts casino, particularly the one in Springfield,” Sharkey said Tuesday. “I need to know a little bit more detail about what is going to be pursued in this session, as opposed to the larger-scale plan.”
According to Duff, the number of casinos in the Northeast has more than doubled in the last 10 years. Simultaneously, Connecticut’s share of revenue from the state’s two existing gaming facilities has been cut in half, with the the number of jobs in those casinos decreasing.
“This is our clarion call,” Duff said. “We’re going to fight for jobs in eastern Connecticut.”
A report released last week by the Northeastern Gaming Research Project said revenue from the two casinos in the state has declined by 39 percent since peaking in 2006. For Foxwoods, that translates to total revenue in 2014 of $892 million, down from $1.6 billion in 2006. Mohegan Sun Casino brought in $1 billion in 2014 compared to $1.6 billion eight years earlier.
In 2004, Connecticut’s pact with the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes garnered $430 million for the state. That number dropped to about $200 million last year.
Senate President Martin Looney said the state’s casinos “are still a significant revenue source,” and that competition from New York, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts has forced the state to expand its gaming.
“This is a way to try to defend what we have,” he said.
Connecticut’s casinos are profitable, Mohegan Chairman Kevin Brown said, though largely through shifts in the organizational business model, and “what that really means is a reduction in jobs,” he said.
In addition to the Springfield project, Massachusetts may license two more gaming facilities. Construction of a $630 million casino is underway in Monticello, New York.
“We will not step aside and let any other state, New York or Massachusetts, take jobs away from Connecticut,” Sen. Cathy Osten said. “This is about jobs, all day long.”
According to a release issued by Senate Democrats, Mohegan Sun employs more than 7,000 individuals, and spends $249 annually on 760 vendors from 141 Connecticut towns. Foxwoods, the older of the two casinos, employs about 5,500 people from 134 town in Connecticut.
Though the plan is to start with a single casino —with slots and tables, but no hotel or music venue — the bill as proposed will allow for two additional facilities, with the intention of building more as competition increases.