Part 2: The Political Battle – Interview with MGM Chairman Jim Murren

(WTNH)–The war of words is escalating between MGM and Connecticut’s two tribal casinos.

The rival casino groups fired off letters to state and legislative leaders over the last two days related to expanding gaming to Bridgeport.

The back and forth comes after News 8 Investigator George Colli interviewed MGM Resorts International Chairman and CEO Jim Murren earlier in the week.

Part 1: Interview with MGM Chairman and CEO James Murren

On Wednesday, Foxwoods Chairman Rodney Butler and Mohegan Sun Chairman Kevin Brown wrote that thet want to be included in any further discussions about a future casino in Bridgeport. The added “we like so many others see the tremendous potential of Bridgeport and would love to be one of the catalysts that lead to a real revival.”

The tribes reiterated that allowing MGM to open the state’s first commercials casino in the Park City would jeopardize the nearly 25-year old exclusivity compact with the state.

It’s a deal that allowed the two casinos to be the sole gambling operators in the state in exchange for 25% of their slot revenues. It amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars per year and a total of $7 Billion since they opened in the 1990’s.

MGM responded by writing a letter to the same state and legislative leaders on Thursday.

Related Content: Tribes want to be part of any potential casino expansion

MGM Senior Vice President Uri Clinton said the company welcomes an open discussion with the tribes and the state.

“That the Tribes also “see the tremendous potential of Bridgeport” confirms our analysis that Bridgeport is by far the best situated location in the state for a commercial casino,” wrote Clinton. “ We welcome the Tribes interest in such a process “where every operator, including the Tribes, can put their best option on the table.”

MGM Chairman Jim Murren, who was born in Bridgeport, told Colli in an exclusive interview that he hopes to have an “adult conversation” about the benefits of expanding gaming in the state.

He promises his project will bring thousands of jobs to the city with the development of a $675 million resort and casino at Steelpointe Harbor.

Murren believes his vision is best for the city and the state.

“If we were suggesting, say converting a movie theater and putting slot machines in it, hypothetically, or some table games, then Bridgeport should say no.” Murren said in a swipe against the tribes’ plan to convert the long closed down Showcase Cinemas in East Windsor into a satellite location. “If they want a diversified resort that will drive convention business, tourism to Connecticut. That will drive entertainment that would help energize Webster Arena and the ampitheatre and help the arts community activities in the community, that’s a different proposition. That means what we’re trying to develop is a resort, not a slot box.”

Murren says the biggest challenge he faces when pitching a new project is overcoming a lack of information or misinformation. He says Connecticut is no different.

“The idea of gaming in the state is not well understood. It’s not understood when Congress passed the Indian Gaming Registration Act. It’s not understood what the compact is with two tribes here and it’s not understood what the benefits have been and what they will be,” said Murren.

Polling shows the majority of Bridgeport resident support the casino being built, but in order for that to happen the state legislature needs to approve it.

The Tribes believe MGM has no real plans to actually move to Bridgeport. In a new advertisement, MMCT uses Murren’s own words from an investor call this Fall when he says “Springfield, Massachusetts will be the home to our newest property and our last major development project in the United States.” The 30-second video ends with a voice over stating “Connecticut isn’t getting an MGM casino. Connecticut is getting played”.

Murren responded by saying Bridgeport is very much in their plans, but he can’t tell investors about a project that isn’t yet approved.

“Right now, I don’t have a project in Connecticut because it’s not legal for me to have a project,” said Murren.  “I have an idea. I have an aspiration and I hope to have a project.”

It’s a war of words that’s only expected to heat up with the 2018 election year upon us.

View PDF documents sent from MGM, and the tribes below:

Letter to Connecticut Governor Malloy 12.07.2017

Letter to Connecticut Legislative Leaders 12.07.2017

Tribes Letter to State Leaders 12.07.2017

 

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