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Connecticut House Narrowly Passes Bill Opening State to Commercial Casinos

A tribal monopoly over casino gaming that has lasted 32 years may be coming to an end in Connecticut.

In a 77-73 vote held on May 4, the Connecticut House of Representatives approved House Bill 5305 – “An Act Concerning a Request for Proposals to Qualify an Entity to Develop a Casino Gaming Facility in the State.”

HB-5305 was introduced in February by a bipartisan coalition of 15 state representatives, along with one state senator in George Logan (R-17). After the narrow approval in the Democratic-controlled House, the bill now heads to the Senate – which is divided 18-18 along party lines for the first time in more than 100 years.

If approved, HB-5305 would open Connecticut to proposals from commercial casino operators, jarring the state’s gaming industry status quo. Currently, the only two casinos in the state are operated by federally recognized tribes under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) of 1988.

The Mashantucket Pequot Tribe opened Foxwoods Resort Casino in 1986, and the Mohegan Tribe followed suit with the Mohegan Sun in 1996. Under a provision added to the state’s tribal gaming compact in 1992, both tribes contribute 25 percent of their slot machine revenue to Connecticut coffers in exchange for the exclusive right to spread slots.

HB-5305 would threaten that longstanding tradition by inviting commercial casino companies to Connecticut for the first time. Applicants would be required to invest at least $500 million while creating at least 2,000 jobs. An application fee of $5 million would be charged to all bidders, but non-winners would receive a refund.

One of those companies is likely to be MGM, which made headlines in September of last year by announcing plans for a massive $700 million casino resort project in Bridgeport.

That casino is still subject to legislative approval, but HB-5305 – while never mentioning Bridgeport specifically – was spearheaded by the city’s House delegation.

The Bridgeport House delegation – six Democrats representing the state’s most likely candidate for a commercial casino – issued a joint statement outlining the merits of HB-5305:

“The ability to expand casino gaming in Connecticut will help create countless opportunities for Connecticut. It’s an opportunity to invest in the development of our state so our urban cores can be the economic drivers Connecticut needs to thrive.

It’s an opportunity to create thousands of new, good-paying job opportunities for our residents.

It’s an opportunity to increase revenue for the state, helping to steady our bottom line.

And it’s an opportunity to enhance foot traffic along the New Haven and Bridgeport corridor, helping to make Connecticut’s two largest cities tourist destinations.”

Rep. Christopher Soto, a New London Democrat who opposed the measure, cited the potential loss of $270 million in slot revenue sharing from the tribes in the current fiscal year:

“(HB-5305) is incomplete and ultimately very dangerous.

We cannot run from the fact that we do have a compact in place.

Once the new casino is approved, we will lose money that we currently receive.”

MGM’s senior vice president Uri Clinton issued a statement to The Day encouraging the Senate to follow up on the House vote:

“(Connecticut) is one step closer to adopting a best-in-class process for possible selection of a commercial casino operator.”

We look forward to continuing this discussion and supporting the legislation as it continues to move through the legislative process.

And we look forward to the Senate and governor concurring with the House, so that the competitive process can begin, companies including the Tribes can put forth their proposals, and the state can determine the deal that’s best for Connecticut.”

The Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes – currently combining as MMCT to construct a third casino in East Windsor that would combat MGM’s planned venture in nearby Springfield, Massachusetts – are adamantly opposed to HB-5305. In a joint statement, both tribes pledged to end revenue sharing payments immediately should the state approve MGM or another commercial casino operator to enter the state.