East Windsor Casino Endangered by Indian Bureau’s Letter

East Windsor Casino - MGM Bridgeport Casino

MGM Resorts’ Jim Murren held a press conference to tout a proposed MGM Bridgeport Casino.

A letter from the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs is clouding the future of the East Windsor casino, the joint venture planned by Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun. The Bureau’s letter was expected to give unqualified support for the casino, but neither approved or disapproved of the gaming venture, which is a big problem for Connecticut lawmakers.

The East Windsor casino is the first development the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes have planned off tribal lands. Building a casino on private property requires special permission from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, a division of the U.S. Interior Department.

During legislative hearings, the tribes produced their own series of letters of non-binding guidance from the Indian Affairs Bureau. Based on those letters, the two tribes promised the new casino, planned for a suburb of Hartford, would not affect the tribes’ revenue-sharing agreements with the State of Connecticut. Because of that promise, Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods assures the state’s legislators that the Bureau of Indian Affairs would have no problem with the trickier parts of the casino development plan.

Joe Verrengia: “Project Doesn’t Go Forward”

State Rep. Joe Verrengia (D), who is the co-chairman of the House Public Safety and Security Committee, told the Hartford Courant, “The fact that it was not a clear approval letter, it’s problematic,. Without the BIA’s letter of approval, the project doesn’t go forward.”

If the Bureau of Indian Affairs does not give its explicit approval, then the state legislature would have to amend the gaming compact for the East Windsor casino to move forward. Significant numbers of legislators did not like the plan to approve the Foxwoods/Mohegan casino without an open bidding process, so any attempt to push through a gaming compact amendment might reopen the casino licensing process to multiple parties.

Bridgeport Casino Lawsuit

As the process has been playing out, Connecticut has been fighting a lawsuit filed by MGM Resorts International. The Las Vegas casino company is building the MGM Springfield less than a 30-minute drive down the road from Hartford, which is why the East Windsor casino was approved in the first place. The idea is to build a casino to keep Hartford-area gamblers nearby, thus keeping their gambling losses from going to a Massachusetts casino.

MGM Resorts claimed in its lawsuit that it wants to build a casino in Bridgeport, Connecticut — near to the New York City metropolitan area. MGM’s suit claimed Connecticut’s leaders did allow a competitive bidding process, which it considered unconstitutional under Connecticut law. A judge recently tossed out the MGM lawsuit, but the company held a press conference this week, once again discussing its plans for a Bridgeport casino.

At the press conference, MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren unveiled a plan for a Bridgeport waterfront casino which would contain 2,000 slot machines, 160 table games, 300-room hotel, and a 700-seat theater. Murren estimated the casino would create a $50 million licensing fee for Connecticut, $8 million a year in revenue sharing for Bridgeport, another $4.5 million for nearby communities, and tens of millions of dollars for the Connecticut State Treasury.

Jim Murren Praised MGM Bridgeport

MGM’s Resorts chief executive also predicted the MGM Bridgeport, which would be built along Long Island Sound in Bridgeport’s Steelpointe Harbor where Donald Trump wanted to build a casino in the 1990s, would create 7,000 jobs.

Jim Murren said that MGM Bridgeport “can help to turn the economic tide of this state. We just need the political commitment to make it happen.”

Any hint that a competitive bidding process might occur in Connecticut thus is a major development for MGM Resorts and its rivals. Not only might it lead to a lucrative casino in Bridgeport, but any delays would allow MGM Springfield to open soonest and start building a customer base from Hartford-area gamblers.

Timothy Larson Says Letter Was “Favorable”

Thus, Connecticut lawmakers who support their state’s tribes are spinning the Interior Department’s latest decision. Sen. Timothy D. Larson (D), an East Hartford resident who staunchly supports the current casino plan, interpreted the letter from the Bureau of Indian Affairs much differently.

Senator Larson said, “It did not say ‘No’. It said it was unnecessary, and I took that as favorable.”

If Sen. Larson’s interpretation is correct, then the Bureau of Indian Affairs letter might be something in the way of a mixup. The coming weeks should prove Larson’s theory out. Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun have a long and positive history with the US Department of the Interior’s Indian Affairs Bureau, but they have never asked for this kind of approval for a project.