“Bridgehaven” Makes Capitol Casino Case

Markeshia Ricks PhotosHartford - Mayor Toni Harp and Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim joined forces here to urge lawmakers to pave the way for a new casino for a region suffering staggering unemployment. They made a simple pitch: We need jobs.

Advocates of a tribal casino planned for East Windsor sought to complicate that narrative.

The dueling delegations faced off Thursday during the opening hours of a lengthy public hearing of the General Assembly’s Public Safety Committee that was stuffed with bill supporters wearing bright T-shirts with MGM Connecticut and another Connecticut tribe interested in a casino, the Schaghticoke.

The bill in question would require the Commissioners of Consumer Protection and Economic and Community Development to issue a request for proposal for a casino in Bridgeport. It also would repeal the authority it granted the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes during the last regular session to operate a casino in East Windsor.

With Bridgeport’s access to trains from Manhattan and ferries from Long Island, MGM has proposed building a $675 million, waterfront casino in that city. A casino there has been an ambition for multiple developers, including Donald Trump. (Read more about that here.)

Critics accuse advocates of fronting for MGM to stifle Pequot competition either for a planned Bridgeport casino or for a new MGM casino just over the border in Springfield, Mass. Advocates for the Bridgeport casino said it’s not about stopping East Windsor and the rest of the North Central region from prospering. It’s about making sure that the struggling South Central region, which contains two of the largest and poorest cities in the state — Bridgeport and New Haven — doesn’t get left behind again.

Bruce OrenHarp and Ganim have teamed up to back the casino, part of an emerging team effort to brand Bridgeport and New Haven —- or, you might say, “Bridgehaven” — as one market for potential new major employers. MGM has also enlisted the help of New Haven-based leaders of the political powerhouse UNITE HERE union, which has a good working relationship with the company’s Nevada casinos. MGM has promised to open a training center in New Haven for the new casino’s jobs.

Ganim told lawmakers here Thursday that he’s not wedded to the language that would derail the building of the East Windsor casino. He even suggested that he’s not wedded to MGM being the casino owner, but that he was open to whatever company had the most successful bid which could be another tribe in the state.

“This proposal talks about a maybe $700 million investment in the creation of 6,000 to 7,000 jobs first in the construction phase and then thousands of permanent jobs,” he said. “We want that. We want the revenue that needs to be produced on a state and local level.”

“If there is revenue to be had, if there is a training center to be had in New Haven—these are important things for our two largest cities and our state collectively,” he said.

New Haven Mayor Harp noted that the two cities combined have about 9,000 unemployed residents.

“For me, support of this bill is not complicated,” she said. “It indicates support for bold initiatives that engage private capital which will, in turn, generate significant revenue from the private sector over time. At this time, that investment is urgently needed. I don’t believe there’s any controversy about that.”

Harps said the MGM plan includes a minimum of 2,000 direct jobs, a private investment of $500 million, no subsidies from taxpayers, a $5 million application fee, 25 percent of annual gross gaming revenues for the state general fund, and an additional 10 percent from video slot issued revenue.

“The bill does not pick a winner,” she said. “MMCT [the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes’ joint company] and MGM have an opportunity to respond to the RFP [request for proposals], as would other tribes or potential developers. As an aside, MGM and its proposal to invest in a Bridgeport resort made a commitment to establish a job training center in New Haven, which you’ll understand appeals to me.”

And at least one Connecticut tribe would be looking to respond to that RFP: The Schaghticoke.

Tribe Chief Richard Velky testified that had the state legislature supported his tribe’s desire to put a casino in Bridgeport in the 1990s, they might not be here having the discussion now. But he’s not holding a grudge. He said the two tribes that entered into compacts with the state more than 20 years ago have stood by those agreements and are to be commended for that.

“Today it’s time to move on,” he said.

Harp expressed a similar sentiment, saying that when the state entered into compacts with Native American tribes for casinos 25 years ago, they were bold for their time. But she said a lot has changed, and the state’s annual revenues under the current arrangement have been steadily declining.

“This year it’s time to look forward without hesitation about the past 25-year-old strategies,” she said. “Connecticut should have real competition in which competitors put their best deals on the table.”

Critics have suggested the same could happen with revenues from a Bridgeport casino, once competitors emerge nearby in New York State and Rhode Island. They have also raised the question of social costs of a casino, such as an increase in problem gambling.

New Haven State Rep. Toni Walker said that when one expands the unemployment lens to include the entire coastline between New Haven and Stamford, the number grows to 22,000.

“We have to create more ways of developing new jobs,” she said. “This bill we do exactly that. This is something all of us need to look at, and not pit one against the other.” When asked by State Rep. Terry Adams, who represents Stamford, if she would support a “win-win” compromise to greenligiht casinos in both Bridgeport and East Windsor, she was amendable.

Shelton Mayor and Republican gubernatorial hopeful Mark Lauretti said that he didn’t support a casino for Bridgeport when he was first elected in the early 1990s. He thought the city could do better than that as far as job creation was concerned.

“Obviously that hasn’t happened a quarter of a century later,” he told committee members Thursday. “I support anyone who wants to invest over a half a billion dollars in private money to create jobs, jobs and more jobs in a state that needs jobs.”

But supporters of the East Windsor casino accused MGM of making false promises for Bridgeport and instead trying to ensure the success of its casino across the border in Springfield, Mass., by blocking the tribes’ plan. Bills that would have put casinos in both cities came before lawmakers last year but the East Windsor bill ultimately got the nod from the legislature, though it required approval from the U.S. Department of Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs to move forward.

East Windsor First Selectman Robert Maynard and State Rep. Christopher Davis, a Republican who represents that city and Ellington, told lawmakers that the tribes, in fact, are moving ahead with their casino because of the federal government’s failure to act on their request for approval. Maynard said that the tribes, through their MMCT Venture LLC, have already purchased a property in East Windsor where they will build the $300 million casino and recently celebrated with a demolition event.

East Windsor is expected to receive as much as $8.5 million a year from the casino for the first five years in personal property tax revenues, according to Rep. Davis. Surrounding towns are in line for as much as $750,000, and Hartford has a 650-job guarantee as part of that deal. Davis said those jobs and that money will absolutely not happen if lawmakers pass the bill as it stands.

He said MMCT would see passing the bill as a breach of the compact and immediately withhold $200 million in payments to the state from current casino slot revenues and put it in escrow until a legal solution could be had in court. Connecticut Attorney General George Jepson, in written testimony, said that he doesn’t believe that passing the legislation runs afoul of existing agreements with tribes. But he said failing to make those payments would be seen as a breach of agreements with the state and put tribes’ ability to operate slot machines on their reservations “into serious legal jeopardy.”

Maynard estimated that, barring any interference, the East Windsor casino could be up and running in just two years and provide about $70 million in annual revenue to the state, thanks in part to its walking-distance proximity to the forthcoming rail line to Windsor Locks. He said the bill that would repeal the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes’ authority to build that casino could derail the East Windsor casino forever.

“I’d like to see a casino in Bridgeport,” he said. “But in addition to this bill supporting Bridgeport, it takes away a casino from East Windsor, from North Central Connecticut. Why can’t we have both? Why do we have to penalize either one?”

He urged lawmakers to bet on the home team, meaning Connecticut’s tribal nations. They’ve honored their compacts and they’ve committed to doing business in the state to the tune of $7 billion over the life of their business dealings in the state, he said.

State Sen. Catherine Osten, a Democrat who represents Columbia, Franklin, Hebron, Lebanon, Ledyard, Lisbon, Marlborough, Montville, Norwich, and Sprague, was even more direct in urging her fellow lawmakers to be suckered in by pie-in-the-sky promises from MGM. She pointed out that MGM’s largest casino on the East Coast, MGM-National Harbor, doesn’t have anywhere near 7,000 jobs.

She said the state shouldn’t be in the business of breaking faith with tribes that have for the last two and a half decades stood by their agreements.

“They have been a very good corporate partner,” she said.

Uri Clinton, senior vice president and deputy general counsel of the MGM Resort International, told lawmakers some six hours into the hearing that the bill is not an MGM bill.

“It’s for anyone who sees an opportunity in Bridgeport,” he said.

He argued for keeping the provision in the bill that would repeal permission for the East Windsor casino.

“Repeal gives everyone an even playing field,” he said.

Members of the Coalition Against Casino Expansion in CT pleaded with lawmakers to count the true cost of gambling: wrecked lives.

State Sen. Tony Hwang, a Republican who represents towns from Fairfield to Newtown, spoke of the “real tragedies of gambling addiction,” he said. “There is a whole dialogue about broken lives ... that is not being discussed because we’re chasing money.”

The 2018 Agenda

Bill #StatusSummarySponsors
HB 5001In Committee
Died on the Floor
To impose a fee on transactions involving virtual currency.Pat Dillon
HB 5031
SB 4
In Committee
Committee Approved
Sent to the Floor
Gov. Signed
To allow students to have equal access to institutional financial aid.Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee
HB 5082In Committee
Committee Approved
Died on the Floor
To provide state funds to assist hurricane victims from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands who are living in Connecticut.Juan Candelaria
HB 5126In Committee
Died on the Floor
To increase funding to boards of education and family resource centers that provide assistance to students and families from Puerto Rico.Juan Candelaria
HB 5112In Committee
Sent to the Floor
Died on the Floor
To permit the retail sale of marijuana and tax such sale to raise revenue for the General Fund and to fund substance abuse treatment, prevention, education and awareness programs.Juan R. Candelaria, Angel Arce, Josh Elliott, Steven J. Stafstrom, Jeff Currey, Susan M. Johnson, Chris Soto, Patricia A. Dillon, Roland J. Lemar, James M. Albis, Christopher Rosario, Kim Rose, Robyn A. Porter, Edwin Vargas, Matthew Lesser, Gregory Haddad, Joshua Malik Hall, Ezequiel Santiago, Diana S. Urban, Toni E. Walker, Robert Sanchez, Alphonse Paolillo
SB 1In Committee
Died on the Floor
To expand the sick leave program to provide earned family and medical leave to certain individuals employed in this state.Martin M. Looney, Bob Duff, Timothy D. Larson, Steve Cassano, Beth Bye, Terry B. Gerratana, Gary A. Winfield, Ted Kennedy, Catherine A. Osten, Marilyn V. Moore, Edwin A. Gomes, Mae Flexer
SB 62In Committee
Died on the Floor
To provide tuition-free community college for Connecticut residents.Martin M. Looney
HB 5182In Committee
Committee Approved
Sent to the Floor
Died on the Floor
To require building officials in certain municipalities to establish and assess a fee for the commencement of certain work without a necessary permit.Planning and Development Committee
HB 5210In Committee
Committee Approved
Sent to the Floor
To (1) mandate insurance coverage of essential health benefits, (2) expand mandated health benefits for women, children and adolescents, and (3) expand mandated contraception benefits.Insurance and Real Estate Committee
HB 5084In Committee
Died on the Floor
To encourage the recycling of nip bottles that otherwise frequently litter urban areas.Roland J. Lemar and Juan R. Candelaria
HB 5350
HB 5537
In Committee
Committee Denied
Sent to the Floor
Died on the Floor
To create a pilot program for shared solar facilities at municipal airports. The bill also would delete the provision that dictates the length of Tweed Airport’s runway.Energy and Technology Committee
HB 5475In Committee
Committee Approved
Sent to the Floor
To amend statutory provisions concerning a police officer’s viewing of a recording from body-worn recording equipment under certain circumstances.Judiciary Committee
HB 5515 In Committee
Committee Approved
Sent to the Floor
To permit a zoning commission to regulate the brightness and illumination of advertising signs and billboards.Judiciary Committee
HB 5540In Committee
Committee Approved
Sent to the Floor
Died on the Floor
To ban guns without serial numbers and regulate those which are sold in a form requiring the purchaser to finish assembly or that are homemade and to permit local authorities to interview immediate family members as part of a determination of an applicant's suitability.Judiciary Committee
HB 5542In Committee
Committee Approved
Sent to the Floor
To ban the sale or transfer, possession, manufacturing or use of bump stocks or other accessories to increase the rate of fire of a firearm.Judiciary Committee

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posted by: THREEFIFTHS on March 15, 2018  6:21pm

This is the selling out of the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes.

Mark 8:36 KJV: For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?
No shame hast the Judas Goat!!

posted by: UBHolden on March 15, 2018  6:33pm

Let’s not be dumb here and swallow these ridiculous promises about thousands of jobs.  As someone noted in the article, MGM’s largest casino doesn’t have 6,000 jobs—so much for 6,000 jobs in Bridgeport.  The construction phase will produce about 1000 full-time jobs over a three year construction period and those 1000 full-time (FTE) positions will be chopped up between multiple people because very few construction people will actually work year-round.  An electrician, plumber, glazer, etc., will work for a few months and then move on to the next project.  So one full-time slot will actually be split between 2-3-4-5 tradespeople over the course of the year!  As for the casino and hotel jobs, how many of these jobs will be part-time and ineligible for benefits?  The training center in New Haven for an employer in Bridgeport?  That makes no sense, and someone will eventually use that to nix that idea, so don’t hold your breath waiting for a training center in New Haven to open.  And finally, we’re going to feed crack (24 hour gambling) to one of the poorest communities in Connecticut and not expect problems down the road????  Stupid!

posted by: HewNaven on March 16, 2018  6:57am

What stage of capitalism are we in, when we look to casinos to provide our state with good jobs?

posted by: Colin Ryan on March 16, 2018  8:04am

The short-sightedness on display here is pitiful. Why are our elected officials fighting tooth and nail to dump on us all of the social costs of gambling? In exchange for a handful of low-wage jobs? For permit fees and a bit of property tax revenue? Let East Windsor have their casino. Show us what you’re doing to build an economy here in greater New Haven that delivers jobs our citizens can actually live on.

Casino Wages:
Bartender         $8.00 – $9.00 per hour (plus tips)
Cashier             $9.00 – $12.00 per hour
Dealer             $7.25 – $9.00 per hour (plus tips)
General Manager   $13.00 – $17.00 per hour
Host                   $8.00 – $11.00 per hour
Porter             $8.00 – $10.00 per hour
Security Officer   $12.00 – $15.00 per hour
Server             $6.00 – $8.00 per hour (plus tips)
Shift Manager         $12.00 – $16.00 per hour

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on March 16, 2018  9:56am


posted by: THREEFIFTHS on February 7, 2018 12:11pm

Keep Drinking the Kool-Aid.The same thing that happen in Atlantic City will happen here.

How Atlantic City went from a bustling tourist hub to a ghost town


The only way to beat roulette is to steal the money when the dealer is not looking.

Albert Einstein

posted by: OhHum on March 16, 2018  11:25am

It’s sad that the State is looking to Drugs (marijuana) and Gambling (casinos) to try and make money for the State and its citizens. Historically when people are on hard times they turn to drugs and gambling to ease the pain. Does the State really think that supplying the two things that helps ruin lives is going to be and improvement and sustainable. Our politicians should work a little and find a better way to improve CT. Drugs and gambling just won’t cut it.

posted by: beyonddiscussion on March 17, 2018  12:09am

It’s a very sad day when the only economic growth ideas our state leaders bring forward are those revolving around more gambling. It preys on the most vulnerable who can least afford it, as well as those with addictions. It’s a pathetic substitute for resourceful, creative economic ideas that once again make CT a thriving place to work and do business. Gambling is a dead end for our state’s economy and our state’s spirit. Building casinos is frankly, a cynical,Trumpian notion of economic development.