Big Gamble or Sure Bet?

Rodney Butler (left), representing the Mashantucket Pequots, and Kevin Brown (right), representing the Mohegan Tribe, join together to ask state lawmakers to approve casino expansion to Northern, Southern and Western Connecticut. The two tribes would be 50/50 partners in the venture. (WTNH / Mark Davis)

HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — A big pitch at the state capitol today one that some say is just a big gamble.

The chiefs of the state’s two casino owning Native-American tribes telling lawmakers they need to remain competitive in the ever expanding casino market here in the Northeast.  Opponents say it’s too much of a gamble but the tribes say not to expand is even more risky especially for the thousands of Connecticut residents that work for them.

It was an historic sight; the two tribal leaders sitting side by side making their case to lawmakers for jointly owned casino operations in Northern, Western and Southern Connecticut.  In ancient times, the Mohegans and the Mashantuckets
were mortal enemies.

The erosion of gamblers at both of the state’s Native-American owned casinos to facilities in surrounding states is predicted to only get worse and they predict the loss of thousands of jobs without the expansion.  That brought out many casino workers fearing for their jobs.  Like Anne Sanders of Waterford who said,  “I’m a single mom, I’ve raised my kids working there.”   Desiree Robb of Baltic saying,  “Obviously jobs in Connecticut are very important to me and the economy, keeping my family able to live in this state.”  Added Sanders,  “They’re great employers, I’ve very fortunate to work for the Mohegan Tribe.”

Construction workers also came supporting the idea.  Like Tyrale Lesesne of New Haven who said,  “It would be nice to get the job to build the place so we can actually provide for our families and get better benefits.”   And Jarmaine Lee of Hartford who added, “Opportunities for a casino to be built in our state is great and dynamic for the building trades.”

The three new facilities would be joint ventures for the tribes.  “We’d be a 50/50 separate ‘LLC’ that would manage all three facilities, own all three facilities,” said Mashantucket Tribal Chairman Rodney Butler.  Mohegan Tribal Chairman Kevin Brown adding,  “We want to remain competitive, that’s the bottom line and that means growing and diversifying our properties to include this potential new development.”

But opponents, like State Senator Mike McLachlan (R-Danbury),  say there’s no way three smaller casinos spread around the state can possibly save thousands of jobs, “The numbers don’t add up, I’m concerned more about Connecticut turning into a dotted landscape of betting parlors.”   And the Governor seems luke warm to the idea saying, “I do understand that the argument that they’re making is about jobs, I’ll listen to those arguments but this is not my legislation, not my proposal.”

The tribes play down the recent Quinnipiac Poll that showed a majority of Connecticut citizens opposed to more gambling noting that when people learn about the job loss angle they are more sympathetic.

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