Plan for third casino could still work: Editorial

Rodney Butler, left, the Mashantucket Pequot chairman, and Kevin Brown, the Mohegan chairman, at the site of the old Showcase Cinemas in East Windsor on Monday, March 5, 2018. The Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes plan a casino at the site.

A plan for a third casino in Connecticut that would have made sense for all parties was on the table and apparently had support at the highest levels. Then it all fell apart. It’s as apt a stand-in for state politics in 2019 as is likely to be found.

Connecticut has since the 1990s had a deal with two Indian tribes near the Rhode Island border that allows them a monopoly on gaming in the state, at the Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods casinos on tribal land, in exchange for a significant portion of slot machine proceeds.

The agreement worked well enough that billions of dollars over the years found their way into state coffers, but cracks started to emerge as gambling proliferated. Neighboring states opened their own casinos, some much closer to Connecticut residents than the two in-state options, and slot proceeds began a precipitous decline. The state began to look seriously at building a third casino.

Bridgeport, the state’s largest city, has been angling for a gaming site for decades, attracting at one point the attention of one Donald J. Trump, among other industry heavyweights. But the plans have foundered for any number of reasons.

To satisfy the desire for a third casino, the tribes agreed with the state to build a new facility in East Windsor. It was approved in 2017 and strategically located to lure some customers who might otherwise continue up the highway to Springfield, Mass., where MGM has recently opened its latest gambling site.

Later that year, MGM made its countermove, proposing a waterfront casino at a long-stalled Bridgeport development in lieu of the East Windsor proposal. The tribes, predictably, didn’t like this plan.

And for the past two years, not much has happened.

A grand bargain, of sorts, was on the table this session, according to Hearst Connecticut Media’s Dan Haar. The deal would have the tribes build a casino in Bridgeport, abandon the East Windsor plan and see MGM walk away. This would give the state a third casino without having to rip up its compact with the tribes. MGM would have satisfied its desire to stop East Windsor, which to many observers was what it really wanted all along.

The deal makes sense, and yet it appears dead. Sticking points on details have emerged from all sides, and everyone seems determined to miss the big picture.

Regardless, there is now a baseline for future negotiations. This is the outline of a plan that makes the most sense for all parties, and when the Legislature reconvenes it should serve as a starting point.

There is good reason to think the gambling market in the Northeast is already saturated, even as new casinos open and more are in the pipeline. And an increase in problem gambling is a serious concern. But if the state is intent on building another casino — and that seems to be the case — it has a blueprint for making it happen.

Connecticut Media Group