Connecticut General Assembly Approves Bridgeport Casino Bill

Bridgeport Casino Bill - Connecticut MGM Resorts Casino

State Rep. Steven Stafstrom gave a strong speech in the General Assembly supporting the Bridgeport casino bill.

The Connecticut General Assembly passed a bill on Friday which could bring a land-based casino to Bridgeport. The bill passed in the General Assembly by a slim 77-73 margin, though it faces uncertain prospects in the Connecticut Senate.

State Rep. Steven Stafstrom (D-Bridgeport) supported the bill in open debate in the Assembly, stating, “This is a jobs bill. This is an economic development bill. This is also a tax-relief bill.”

The proposal gained a sharp rebuke from lawmakers in the northeastern part of the state, as well as supporters of Connecticut’s gaming tribes, the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes. State Rep. Kevin Ryan (D-Montville) pointed out the relationship Connecticut has with the tribes, along with the billions the Mohegans and Pequots have paid to the state treasury over the years.

Rep. Ryan said, “I’ve never seen a proposal that cannibalizes one part of the state for sake of another part of the state. The Mohegans and Pequots have a long history in this state and have provided a lot of revenue to the state — $7.5 billion — and we have all benefited from that.”

Bridgeport Casino Bill

Most refer to the proposal as the Bridgeport casino bill, though the legislation technically would allow developers to submit proposals for a new casino anywhere in Connecticut. The bill is designed specifically for Bridgeport, because MGM Resorts has proposed a $700 million seaside resort and casino which would create 2,000 permanent casino jobs and 5,000 construction jobs.

As a sweetener to state lawmakers in other parts of Connecticut, MGM Resorts’s casino proposal includes the building of a job training center in New Haven. If approved, the Las Vegas casino company pledged to cover the $250 million in slots revenues paid by the tribes which own the state’s two operating casinos, Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort.

MGM Resorts’ Play for Bridgeport

When MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren held a press conference to tout the Bridgeport casino in the summer of 2016, it was seen as a publicity stunt in the company’s ongoing dispute with Connecticut’s tribal gaming groups, the Mashantucket Pequot (Foxwoods) and Mohegan tribes. At the time, the two tribes had preliminary approval for a third casino in the Hartford area, a mini-casino, which would compete with the MGM Springfield only 30 miles away in Western Massachusetts.

MGM Resorts at the time had filed a lawsuit to challenge the licensing process for the Hartford-area casino, which eventually became the proposed East Windsor casino. MGM’s lawyers claimed in court that the Connecticut state legislature’s decision to approve such a casino without an open licensing process was unconstitutional under Connecticut’s state constitution. The lawsuit eventually was tossed by a federal judge, but other developments thwarted a quick resolution to the Mohegan/Mashantucket Pequot joint venture in East Windsor.

East Windsor Casino’s Delay

Instead of a quick approval for the East Windsow casino from the US Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs, Ryan Zinke’s department slow-walked the approval process. Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods complained that Ryan Zinke had met with lobbyists for MGM Resorts while declining to make a decision which was mandated within a certain 90-day time limit. MGM Resorts plans to open the MGM Springfield later this year, so it can build a player database from the Hartford-area gamblers before the East Windsor satellite casino can open.

Now, it appears that the consensus on the East Windsor casino has broken down in the Connecticut legislature. When the joint venture was approved, almost no one in the legislature was a dissenting voice. A faction of lawmakers in the southwestern part of Connecticut began to support the Bridgeport casino idea.

Chris Rosario and Joe Ganim on Bridgeport Casino

The Friday vote shows that a majority of lawmakers in the General Assembly now support such a proposal. State Rep. Chris Rosario (D-Bridgeport) summed up the opinion of those lawmakers, saying, “MGM is willing to invest in one of the most distressed areas in the country. I think we should listen.”

Joe Ganim, the mayor of Bridgeport, is a vocal supporter of such a measure. Ganim said, “This vote sends a strong signal to the business community that we support fair play in the marketplace, we support open competition and we open for business.”

“If we do invest in real growth on the Bridgeport waterfront, we can attract tourists and investors from the New York City region, the largest metropolitan area in the country, and beyond.”

“People Are All Over the Place”

The Bridgeport casino bill appears to cut across the partisan divide. Instead of Republicans and Democrats lining up against one another, lawmakers’ votes appear to involve sectional loyalties or one’s relationship with the state’s existing casino interests.

State Sen. Toni Boucher (R-Wilton) said the bill was so unexpected that the Senate Republicans have yet to take a straw poll on the issue. Sen. Boucher said, “People are all over the place. You have people who represent the Mohegan and Foxwoods area and others who are just against gambling.”

“Some represent towns at the Massachusetts border. Tolls were easy; we are 18 solid against. But this is not a given.”

Andrew Doba on Bridgeport Casino Bill

Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen previously said that the Bridgeport casino bill would not violate the state’s gaming compact with the Mohegan and Pequot tribes. Those tribes disagree with the AG’s contention bitterly.

Andrew Doba, speaking on behalf of the East Windsor joint venture, said of the Bridgeport casino bill, “Let’s be clear, the only thing this bill accomplishes is to place in jeopardy nearly $1.4 billion is state tax revenue, $328 million of which is slated to go directly to cities and towns.”

“Any legislator who votes for this bill is going to have to head back to their community and explain why they voted to place millions in funding in jeopardy, funding that helps with providing services and keeping taxes down.”