The governor’s office has had no formal discussions about opening a casino at Hartford’s XL Center with the arena’s owners or the state’s Native American tribes, a spokesman said Monday.
The Hartford Courant reported the state was considering a sale of the aging 16,000-seat arena to the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequots tribes, owners of Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods casinos.
“There has been nothing remotely formal,” said Max Reiss, communications director for Gov. Ned Lamont. “[Lamont] finds it to be an interesting idea.”
The XL idea was floated to replace Tribal Winds casino in East Windsor, which lawmakers authorized in 2017, but been constructed yet. The tribes dismissed the idea of an XL Center development on Monday, if it meant giving up their East Windsor plans.
"The tribes believe that Hartford can be part of a larger gaming bill, which is why they support the bipartisan, bicameral legislation that was announced last week that would include the development of an entertainment zone in the Capital City,” said Andrew Doba, spokesman for MMCT, the tribes’ jointly-owned company building East Windsor. “However, they are not willing to walk away from the Tribal Winds Casino in East Windsor, a project where they've invested nearly $20 million. We look forward to continued discussions with the governor and legislative leaders on a solution that puts Connecticut in the best possible position to maximize jobs and revenue."
The concept of an XL Center casino arose nearly a week after lawmakers unveiled proposed legislation to authorize a $100 million casino in Bridgeport last week, as well as other gambling expansions. Sen. Cathy Osten, whose district includes both Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, said she remains committed to trying to pass this bill, which holds no mention of the XL Center.
“Every year, Massachusetts collects $70 million in gaming revenue that belongs in Connecticut,” Osten said. “It’s time for us to ensure that we hold on to the revenue that belongs in Connecticut and that we hold on to the jobs that belong with Connecticut companies.”
The arena is owned by the Capital Region Development Authority, a quasi-public agency. CRDA did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.
The authority has previously tried to sell the arena. The venue needs $100 million in renovations, but Lamont did not allocate funding for improvements in his budget, nor did lawmakers back the idea. A sale of the property to the tribes could save taxpayers from footing the bill for those improvements.
University of Connecticut basketball and ice hockey is played at the arena. The Hartford Wolfpack, an American Hockey League team, plays at the venue and concerts are held there.
Negotiations over legalizing sports betting and authorizing a Bridgeport casino stalled this spring between the governor’s office and the tribes, who have exclusive rights to casino gambling in the state due to a two-decades old compact. Lawmakers restarted negotiations in late May.
Last week, Lamont criticized the efforts of Bridgeport and eastern and northern Connecticut lawmakers to draft gambling legislation without them. He dismissed the plan for a $100 million casino in the Park City as insufficient because it authorized, but not required a “meaningful” project in Bridgeport. But Lamont remains open to more gambling talks, Reiss said.
“He’s not going to say flat out ‘no’ to anything,” Reiss said. “What he wants is there to be a comprehensive gambling solution for Connecticut that includes everything: the Lottery, sports betting, what does brick and mortar look like.”
In negotiations this winter, Lamont supported the tribes abandoning their East Windsor plans in favor of a Bridgeport casino. The governor is not “that firm” on stopping East Windsor, but he is worried about the development — or lack there of.
“Governor Lamont is incredibly concerned that there has been no movement on East Windsor,” Reiss said. “The fact that the groundbreaking occurred in 2017 and it is in the same condition it was then is deeply concerning. It raises concerns about the veracity of the project.”
In 2017, lawmakers authorized the construction on an East Windsor casino. In 2018, a demolition ceremony on the property of the new casino was held, but the tribes have not broken ground on construction of the new project.
The East Windsor casino is intended to cut off traffic to MGM Resorts International’s $1 billion casino that recently opened in Springfield, Mass. Removing MGM’s East Windsor competition might be one way to avoid a lawsuit from MGM, which has also lobbied to open a Bridgeport facility.