Bridgeport, New Haven lawmakers seek to open casino process

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Bridgeport and New Haven lawmakers are advocating a new competitive process for Connecticut’s first casino on non-tribal land despite the General Assembly throwing its support last year behind a proposed tribal casino in East Windsor.

The renewed push comes as the tribal project, being developed by the Mohegans and the Mashantucket Pequots, has been delayed, pending federal approvals. The state and the two tribes are suing the federal government for failing to act.

“It’s the elephant in the room,” said Democratic state Rep. Chris Rosario, of Bridgeport. “If the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) approved it, then we’d be working on other opportunities for Bridgeport to get jobs.”

Rosario and his colleagues argue that inviting various casino developers, including MGM Resorts and the tribes, to compete to build a commercial casino would be a better deal for Connecticut in terms of jobs, economic development, community benefits and support for local businesses. The coalition plans to submit legislation to be considered in the new session, which begins Wednesday.

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MGM has expressed interest in building a gambling and entertainment facility in Bridgeport.

Andrew Doba, a spokesman for the two tribes’ business entity, MMCT, said the legislation would repeal legislative approval of the East Windsor casino and benefit Massachusetts and MGM. The tribes have argued they need the new casino to help protect state revenues and jobs at their existing facilities in southeastern Connecticut, Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort Casino, from competition expected from MGM’s new casino in Springfield, Massachusetts.

“Let’s call this bill what it is — the MGM Massachusetts Protection Act,” Doba said. “A bill that will cost Connecticut $1 billion in revenue and eliminate 4,000 jobs was a bad idea last year and is still a bad idea.”

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The new legislation directs the Department of Economic and Community Development to issue a request for proposals for a commercial gambling facility. The department would evaluate any submissions from potential developers and select a qualified entity for the General Assembly to consider. No casino license would be issued without legislative action.

Would-be developers would have to meet a list of requirements. They must make a $500 million minimum total investment; generate a minimum of 2,000 direct jobs; provide a $50 million, nonrefundable license fee before construction; provide the state with 25 percent of gross gambling revenue from table games and slot machines; and funnel an additional 10 percent of annual gross gambling revenue from video slots to the state’s main public education funding account.

The bill also would require a minimum $8 million fee to mitigate impacts on the local community, such as additional law enforcement expenses.

“This is a real opportunity for us to maximize jobs and revenue,” said Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, a co-chairman of the legislature’s Appropriations Committee. “It is an opportunity we cannot afford to let go by.”

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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