Labor Bets On MGM Casino

Christopher Peak PhotosNew Haven’s labor unions flexed their political muscle to back MGM Resorts’s proposed casino in Bridgeport, as a showdown begins over tribal nations’ competing plans.

At a rally Tuesday night at UNITE HERE’s hall at First & Summerfield Church on Elm Street, three mayors, four state legislators (two of them Republicans), a gubernatorial hopeful, nine alders and a crew of workers from other MGM properties spoke about the jobs that a resort casino could bring to the region.

Betting on a strong market in Southern Connecticut, with its access to trains from Manhattan and ferries from Long Island, MGM has proposed building a $675 million, waterfront casino in Bridgeport. A casino there has been an ambition for multiple developers, including Donald Trump.

The company has also agreed to open a workforce development center in New Haven, where 2,000 employees would be trained. “This resort will need people who handle money and luggage; people who plan menus, prepare the food and serve it; people who buy advertising; and people who manage the payroll for all those jobs,” Mayor Toni Harp said. The partnership deals New Haven into the pack with Bridgeport as a political team to work alongside UNITE HERE in Hartford, where a legislative showdown against Native American tribes will take place.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Bob Proto, UNITE HERE — Local 35’s longtime president, announced that he has struck a neutrality agreement for the proposed casino. Essentially, that means MGM, which already works with UNITE HERE at 27 hotels like the Bellagio and Mandalay Bay on the Vegas Strip, won’t interfere with organizing employees at the new project. So workers will have a union and earn living wages and benefits.

“This state needs new ideas, and now, a private investor wants to come in, who won’t put a burden on taxpayers,” Proto said. “But we have some folks that are cynical and narrow-minded in this state. Ask the folks in this region, in Bridgeport, if they want a good job with benefits. Because if you go against this project, you’re going against opportunity. And the fact is we’re not going to let that happen.”

After jamming out to the 1970 single “When Will We Be Paid?” by The Staple Singers, UNITE HERE organizer Rev. Scott Marks took the pulpit and got the crowd revved up. “This is real,” he told roughly 85 union members in attendance. “Bring the jobs, that’s what we need. Bring the jobs, that’s how our family eats.”

Wearing green shirts that read, “7,000 Jobs / No Taxpayer Dollars,” they rose to their feet and cheered for each speaker. (Bridgeport’s Mayor Joe Ganim and the Republican politicians were present but didn’t take the microphone.) At one point, led by Walker, they burst into song, chanting, “We are the union, the mighty, mighty union.”

The room was captivated by testimonials from current MGM employees, who travelled from other properties in Detroit, Atlantic City and Washington, D.C., to speak in New Haven.

Alicia Weaver, a room attendant at the Detroit casino, described how the casino helped her go from a dropout to a wage-earner. After being hired as a restaurant server 19 years ago, Weaver said she’s now earning $16.35 hourly, about double the state’s minimum wage, and she has two raises on the way. And she said it’s turned her hometown around. “You should see Detroit from 20 years ago. MGM has been good to our city,” Weaver said. “It’s because of them, our city has a shining light at the end of the tunnel, and they can do it for you as well.”

Tuesday’s rally was timed with the announcement Tuesday of a new state bill, expected to be filed this week, that would establish a competitive bidding process for a casino license. The bill also repeals last year’s approval of a gaming facility in East Windsor. That casino was intended to compete with MGM’s new resort across the state lines in Springfield, Mass.

New Haven State Rep. Toni Walker, the bill’s co-sponsor, explained that the federal government has held up approval of the state’s latest gaming compact with the tribes — after MGM’s private campaign by two high-powered lobbyists — creating a delay that Connecticut and its shaky financial outlook don’t have time to wait out.

“It could take years, and we don’t have years,” she said. “We need to get these jobs and training. We need to move forward and allow other business.” She added that a competitive process was the only fair way to pick an operator, with “nothing behind closed doors.”

MGM favors an open bidding process, so it can win business away from a competitor. “The legislative proposal announced today mirrors industry best practices by establishing a truly competitive, open and transparent process,” Uri Clinton, MGM senior vice president and legal counsel, said in a statement. “That’s really all MGM has asked for from day one: a fair chance to compete for Connecticut’s first commercial casino license rather than seeking an exclusive no-bid hand-out.”

The state would need to pass the competitive bill in order for MGM to even pursue permission to build the first commercial casino off tribal land in the state. Another bill would be required to actually give them the license, and that would come with a price-tag. If that happens, a longstanding state deal giving the tribes exclusive rights to run casinos would expire, along with the government’s share of slot machine revenues. That payment was worth $264 million last year, way down from the peak of $430 million a decade ago. MGM is promising that a Bridgeport casino would bring in more revenue; its political proponents are basically making a bet that that will be true.

MMCT Ventures, a partnership of the Mashantucket Pequots and Mohegan tribes came out in opposition of the bill. “Let’s call this bill what it is: the MGM Massachusetts Protection Act,” Andrew Doba, a spokesman for the group, said in reference to the Springfield casino. “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.”

As gambling expands in neighboring states, some critics have questioned MGM’s end game: Is the company ready to open a casino in Bridgeport, or does it just want to crush the competition along the Massachusetts border?

MGM said it’s all in.

“We look forward to pursuing this opportunity as soon as the bill passes,” Clinton said in the statement. “We are fully prepared to present a compelling proposal that will create thousands of jobs, boost the state’s economy and drive tourism, offer significant opportunities for local businesses, and provide substantial revenue to the state and its municipalities. And we continue to believe that Bridgeport is the best location for a commercial casino … to achieve all of these objectives.”

Some have criticized the idea of promoting casinos as economic development, in part because they promote gambling addiction.

Harp said that the state does need to line up help for those who develop an addiction from gambling, but she said those compulsive gamblers would make up only a sliver of the players. “Most people put up $20 or $50,” she said. “If they lose, that’s it. If they make money, maybe they’ll go to a five-star restaurant and have a meal that they otherwise wouldn’t. That’s what most people do.”


Watch the rally in the above video.


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posted by: Bill Morico on February 7, 2018  9:27am

How can anyone support casino gambling, which takes money mostly from workers and the elderly, and profits big corporations? So southern CT may gain some union jobs? Jobs with do not prepare people for a real future? This is not Las Vegas, where you can go from one Union casino or hotel to another! This is sad news for labor and New Haven in the long run. I am disappointed to see so many supposed progressives back this opportunist proposal, especially in conjunction with Ganim. If this proposal passes it will be the downfall of Ganim (good for him), Harp, and ultimately, support for Yale workers.

posted by: jamesj@newhaven on February 7, 2018  9:28am

Classic case of short-sightedness: a casino in Bridgeport will only cannibalize revenue and jobs from the other casinos.  A casino in a poor community like Bridgeport will lead to lots of people trying to strike it big in one shot and lead to more poverty and misery.  Many of the casino jobs will end up being part time jobs.  Let’s not even talk about the traffic mess on I-95 this will cause.  The Job training center in New Haven will close within 18 months of the casino opening because it will have outlived its usefulness.  I’m a Democrat, and I’ve concluded the state Democratic Party is full of idiots who simply do not understand we need to get control of the state budget and makes structural changes that will lead to job growth.  And I don’t mean tax breaks for the rich!  Connecticut is the only state in the country which has not regained the number of jobs it lost in the recession.  What does that tell you?

posted by: TimeforChangeInNewHaven on February 7, 2018  9:39am

Great support the few but don’t look at the whole! What is the point of these politicians?

posted by: duncanidaho645 on February 7, 2018  9:40am

Yea! What have Native Americans ever given us? /sarcasm

Anyone on board with MGM here is disgusting.

posted by: TimeforChangeInNewHaven on February 7, 2018  9:53am

Selfish people at the head! Truly need to take a look at what they are doing!

posted by: BevHills730 on February 7, 2018  10:07am

Casinos employ many service industry workers.  MGM workers who are in unions have excellent health care and actually retire with a pension.  Those dissenting here simply don’t understand what it is like for most of America in this economy.  “Jobs with do not prepare people for a real future?”  I don’t know about you, but I wish my future included a retirement pension.  Certainly there are downsides to casinos.  But right now we are getting the downsides with our current casinos, while allowing them to resist unionization and giving them monopoly bargaining power with the state.

posted by: LoveNH on February 7, 2018  10:55am

Well, it ain’t Amazon. or GE. or Alexion. or even Tweed….
But Scott Marks and co. show up in droves (next to Ganim?!?) for the first time in a while to yell in support of the need for jobs. These New Haven folks don’t seem bad-hearted, and so I remain puzzled. Is it possible he and his followers are just easily conned? Misinformed? On the take? I really have no idea,
but there must be an explanation. Any takers in the commentariat?

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on February 7, 2018  11:11am

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: RetiredGuy on February 7, 2018  11:39am

If casinos are the answer, I don’t want to know the question.

posted by: HewNaven on February 7, 2018  11:54am

This is sad. While I can acknowledge the lack of good-paying jobs with benefits in our region, we shouldn’t look to greedy enterprises (e.g. casinos) to provide them. Alas, that’s precisely how desperate working families are in CT and elsewhere in the country. They’ll take whatever they can get in terms of decent employment. Go figure.

posted by: RobotShlomo on February 7, 2018  12:02pm

Narrow minded? Yes, a lot of people in CT are that. Cynical? Here’s the thing; how many times have we been promised “it’s going to be different this time” before? And 99.9999 times out of a hundred plans just collapse like a house of cards (pun intended). There were the same exact plans back in the mid 90’s for a Bridgeport resort and casino. Man, I tell you we had some great times at the casino they built. Oh, wait…

I always see the same people making the same promises, and nothing happens. “It’s going to be different this time, we swear”. I didn’t believe them then, why should I believe them now? I’m not adverse to casino gambling, but we’ve heard this same song and dance before.

posted by: robn on February 7, 2018  12:14pm

Bottom line(s)....
1) Will this import more capital than it exports?
2) Is the East Coast casino market already over saturated?
3) Are we witnessing a HomeDepot/Lowe’s type build-one-on-every-block turf war?

posted by: AverageTaxpayer on February 7, 2018  1:07pm

The social costs of mass-scale, legalized gambling far outweigh the benefits of the jobs created.

So once again New Haven’s Unions demonstrate that they only care about themselves.

posted by: opin1 on February 7, 2018  1:49pm

This would be great for Bridgeport. What sets it apart is the waterfront location. It would be a great way (perhaps the only opportunity) for Bridgeport to develop their waterfront on a grand scale. Other restaurants and businesses and marinas would be sure to follow (the design picture looks nice). The proximity to NYC is of course also ideal and would help ensure that it remains upscale over time.  I’m not a big fan of casinos or Las Vegas but there’s no denying lots of people find it really fun. Having it as an entertainment option improves the allure of Southern CT as a destination, place to live, and place to do business. I envision the E Windsor location becoming crappy after it ages (like some of the Atlantic City ones) since there’s nothing around it. But I think Bridgeport with its waterfront and proximity to NYC could remain upscale for years to come. If it had an outdoor promenade with restaurants and bar on the water, that wonderful. Looks like it could bring in significant jobs and revenue for the state and for Bridgeport.

posted by: EPDP on February 7, 2018  3:49pm

Everyone wants to make money off gambling addicts, especially the State of Connecticut, with mini casinos in every gas station in town.  Gambling addiction causes addicts to rob, cheat and steal to feed their habit.  At what point do these unsavory politicians decide that it is time to help, rather than harm, the population?  The government waited until 200 people started dying each day from opioids before the brain trust in DC decided to stop the insanity.  The jobs created by casinos are menial and low paying. You might as well stay unemployed and live off the government dole. Isn’t that what the government wants?  The good jobs go to the wealthy and well connected, who slum for four years at Yale, while everyone else gets the scraps. Welcome to America.

posted by: Esbey on February 7, 2018  4:18pm

1. It is rich to see the UNITE-HERE union promote development and jobs when it is their union who will gain members.  When construction projects promise jobs to *other unions* UNITE-HERE typically opposes those projects, often to gain leverage on their own unrelated issues. Solidarity Forever!

2. The Bridgeport project isn’t costless as the rally participants claimed: it will cost the state a lucrative deal with the existing Casinos and will drain business away from Southeast CT. It might still be worth it, but that is a big cost. At the least, a Bridgeport casino should *guarantee* to *more than* match the state’s existing slot revenue. 

3. I am happy that Bridgeport and New Haven are cooperating. Maybe Bridgeport can help us build support for the Tweed runway expansion?  More “city” express Metro North trains (stopping only at the 3 “big” cities and then express to NYC)?  What else?

posted by: RetiredGuy on February 7, 2018  5:03pm

Maybe Bridgeport can help us build support for the Tweed runway expansion?—Esbey

I’m with you, Esbey.  Once we have a runway that goes from Bridgeport to New Haven, Tweed can accommodate those jumbo jets and Elon Musk’s Falcon 9 rocket.

posted by: Itcantbereal on February 7, 2018  5:52pm


leave Scott Marks alone—he’s only doing his job—and he does it well.  Bob Proto pays him specifically to lead protests and he does it well once he starts ryhmin’ and yellin’.  That is all he does at the so-called “Center for a New Economy”.  Sweet job if you can get it!

posted by: JCFremont on February 7, 2018  7:41pm

Could it work? If built it would be the closest large casino closest to New York City with a train line. Would MGM pay for additional Metro North Casino Specials? If we must go with a casino I’d go with Bridgeport. Windsor as a block for the Springfield casino is a downright stupid idea it won’t attract New York nor much of the Boston area unless you can get them to turn off the turnpike onto I-84. I think the Arena and Ballpark can be enveloped into the casino property and eminent domain can take any property needed. The rail and ferry helps the torturous I95 and if MGM would like they can start a high speed ferry from Manhattan, no funding from the state. Perhaps with help of eminent domain a golf course and tennis courts can be included unless of course some of the Black Rock Clubs can have a reciprocal arrangement because let’s face it the final construction is going to include a surrounding wall that would make an Arizona Rancher cry.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on February 7, 2018  8:42pm

Didn’t Donald Trump propose a casino in Bridgeport in the 1990s?

posted by: acumen on February 8, 2018  8:06am

There many other opportunities to exploit destructive habits and deprive trusting, naive, or misguided of their possessions. Someone here said “there’s no denying lots of people find it really fun”. “Lots of people” also find strip clubs fun. Some will enjoy bordellos.

How is it that casinos are even on the table of options to improve the economy?!

How about improving transportation to Bradley airport by creating a rapid and reliable airport express train system? The businesses are leaving CT in droves and we are building a new Casino?!

posted by: robn on February 8, 2018  8:36am

“There’s a sucker born every minuet”
P.T. Barnum, Mayor of Bridgeport, Connecticut 1875–1876

posted by: LoveNH on February 8, 2018  8:55am

Re Scott Marks: is it true he’s on Proto’s payroll??? So he IS on the take??? I will consider this a malicious rumor at least for now.  Reverend Marks, what say you? Why not fight for good jobs from a growing biotech economy? Why not fight for a usable local airport? All you presently are saying is “ante up”???

Re acumen: Sure build high speed trains to everywhere, but why ignore that New Haven would already have a thriving regional airport right here (The airlines have already lined up) but for a needed state law to repave
500ft of existing asphalt. The economic analysis is done and convincing - it’s a win win for more good New Haven jobs (despite the good reverend’s puzzling - to me -  silence).

posted by: BevHills730 on February 8, 2018  9:50am

Tech companies provide good jobs for tech bros. Typically for everyone else they provide bad low wage jobs at best. They also bring gentrification and a culture that exploits women and discriminates against people of color.  I would rather waste my money on slots than get pressured into a cuddle puddle with some disgusting tech entrepreneur who still hasn’t gotten over high school rejection.

posted by: opin1 on February 8, 2018  2:54pm

@acumen - you answered your own question.  How about improving transportation to Bradley? how about expanding Tweed? How about building a fancy casino and hotel on the water in Bridgeport? How about bringing new business to CT (and retaining existing)? They’re all connected. Its about quality of life. The more options people have for recreation, the better the quality of life, the more people will want to live here, and the more businesses will want to be here. I’m not fan of casinos or gambling and sounds like you aren’t either. But I acknowledge that lots of people are. How many people chose to go to Vegas last year for vacation?

People get their recreation in different ways: some like to sail, some like to see live music, some like to play or watch sports, some like to hike, some like to enjoy an occasional night at a casino. The more options for quality of life, the better the place to live. To me, having a fancy casino on the water in Bridgeport where I can go gamble $100 once a year, or go enjoy their fancy restaurant overlooking the water is better than having what’s currently in the Bridgeport harbor.  I also don’t mind if thousands of people want to come from out of state to enjoy the casino and boost the CT economy and tax coifers (so that we can have nice things like better transportation to Bradley). Hopefully they will pass through some new tolls if they choose to drive.

Why does a company like GE (or any new startup) leave CT for Boston?  its quality of life, things to do. (its also cost of doing business, and available resources, but these are all closely related). Not saying a casino is the solution but its a tiny piece to the puzzle. New Haven building a boat house, West Haven building shopping outlets on the water, and Bridgeport building a hotel/casino, all are small pieces that improve quality of life in the area.

posted by: acumen on February 9, 2018  7:01pm

opin1: We differ only in the definition of a recreation vs exploitation. I am all for restaurants and theaters but you may spend a $100 in a casino and consider it fun but another will loose the house and her children will be homeless and hungry. To some people it is addictive, corrupting, and ultimately destructive. By design, you are going to loose. A promise of hight reward is misleading. Essentially, it is a legalized theft. You may call it “recreation” but it is theft by definition – the action of stealing. It is an action where a casino has a statistical advantage to win. The same with the government lottery.  We don’t have gladiators fighting on arenas any more. Was it a good idea to stop that recreation? I think the casinos should follow. I am not suggesting that we should prevent people from being naive or plain stupid but I suggest we as a society should stop using that nativity or stupidity for profit.