CT Governor’s Plan Would Put an End to East Windsor Casino
In Connecticut last week, Governor Ned Lamont (l.) floated the idea of turning the aging XL Center in Hartford into a casino and bringing legal sports betting to the state. The plan is contingent on the state’s two federally recognized tribes dropping their proposal for a jointly run casino in East Windsor. And there’s another hitch: MGM has stepped in to block a second tribal casino proposed for Bridgeport.
Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont last week proposed a plan that would turn the aging XL Center in Hartford into a casino, hand it over to the state’s two federally recognized tribes to operate gaming at the arena, and also bringing legal sports betting and iGaming to the state. The plan is contingent on the tribes’ agreement to drop their proposal for a jointly-run casino in East Windsor.
According to the Hartford Courant, Lamont’s proposal would allow the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes, operators of Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods respectively, to also open a casino in Bridgeport, advantageously located near the New York City and Long Island markets. MGM Resorts International had proposed a casino of its own in Bridgeport and has filed a lawsuit against the Department of Interior to block the plans.
According to MGM’s suit, filed last week, changes by Interior to the compact between Connecticut and the tribes “facilitate commercial, off-reservation gaming by the tribal joint venture anywhere in Connecticut and state legislators have recently proposed granting the joint venture an exclusive, no-bid license to operate a casino in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
“The amendments thus confer a statewide, perpetual competitive advantage on the joint venture,” MGM said.
An end to the East Windsor casino plan MGM’s goal; its $1 billion casino in Springfield, right across the state line in Massachusetts, has failed to meet expectations for revenues and profits, and its plan to build a $675 million casino complex on Bridgeport’s waterfront has never received approval by the legislature.
The tribes plan a gaming resort called Tribal Winds to be developed at the site of the former Showcase Cinemas in East Windsor, right across the state line from the MGM Springfield. Construction has not yet begun on the site.
Lamont’s plan has been rejected so far by the tribes, who have spent nearly $20 million in planning, design and demolition costs on the $300 million East Windsor casino.
Ryan Drajewicz, Lamont’s chief of staff, said the governor’s “primary objective” is to “do what’s best for the state of Connecticut, not the narrow interests that so often dominate this issue at the expense of the citizens of this state.”
In return for giving up East Windsor, officials said the tribes would also receive permission to run sports betting across the state and conduct iGaming.
The XL Center, built in in the mid-1970s, operated by the Capital Region Development Authority and Comcast Spectacor, reportedly needs hundreds of millions of dollars in repairs and renovations. If the tribes were to take over the XL Center, it would be upgraded and continue to host NCAA basketball and minor league hockey.
Mashantucket Pequot tribal Chairman Rodney Butler said, “We’re looking at a global solution—looking at sports betting, online gaming, extended liquor hours, casinos in Bridgeport, casinos in Hartford, and we’re trying to wrap it all into one conversation. It’s complicated.”
Lamont said he’s motivated to develop a plan that can succeed, sans legal challenges. “If this gets stuck in the legal muck like it’s been for the last five years, we’re not going to show any progress,” Lamont said. “I wanted something that made sure we didn’t get stuck in a legal ditch for the next five years. … I wanted something that allows us to get going with sports betting and internet gambling.”
“Those aren’t things that I do or care particularly about, but that’s part of the 21st century,” he continued. “Our neighbors are beginning to do it, and I want to get going on it. I just worry that if we have a partial solution that leads to another round of litigation, we’re not going to be any better off.”
Democratic Senator Cathy Osten, a staunch supporter of the tribes, said, “I’ll revive any [gambling] idea that lets us get off the dime, and I don’t have to sit around and talk about gambling for the next three years—because in terms of my priorities, I’m not sure it’s in the top 20.”
Osten pointed out that the tribes are the seventh- and eighth-largest employers in the state and account for more than 15,000 jobs. Their casinos attract millions of customers every year with more than half of them coming from out of state. Over the past 27 years, the tribes have contributed $8 billion to the state in a revenue-sharing agreement that allows them to operate slot machines.
The Connecticut Mirror cited Andrew Doba, a spokesman for MMCT, the joint venture of the Mashantucket Pequots and Mohegans. “They are not willing to walk away from the Tribal Winds Casino in East Windsor, a project where they’ve invested nearly $20 million.”
Lamont seems stuck on the revitalization of the XL Center. “I’ve got a priority to fix the XL Center and make that what it should be, as a center for this growing city of Hartford,” he recently said. “And I’ve reached out to a number of different groups as we think about a public-private partnership, which is the best way for us to do it. It’s not simply a matter of the taxpayers throwing money at the XL Center, but working with a strong partner so it could be as vibrant as it could be.”
A bill filed by Osten would grant the tribes exclusive rights to online sports betting in Connecticut, authorize them to jointly operate the casino in Bridgeport and open sports-betting “entertainment zones” in Hartford and two other unspecified communities. The tribes countered that they already have exclusive rights to sports betting in Connecticut should it be legalized in any form here.
The tribes also say East Windsor would siphon customers from MGM Springfield, while a Bridgeport casino would cannibalize the tribes’ own Connecticut patrons, pulling from its Fairfield County and metro-New York.
The General Assembly passed legislation in 2017 that authorizes MMCT to build the East Windsor casino. MGM sued before the bill passed, claiming it would violate the equal protection and commerce clauses of the U.S. Constitution.
In another glitch, the tribes have yet to obtain financing for the $300 million project, and they still are fighting local zoning appeals that they say are financed by MGM. Both tribes have outstanding debts of $1.8 billion.