Courtesy of the Mohegan Sun casino
Mohegan Sun’s Race Book (Courtesy of the Mohegan Sun casino)

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Monday he does not see general support in Connecticut for expanding gambling outside the state’s two tribal casinos.

Malloy responded to reports last week that the Mohegan tribe, which owns the Mohegan Sun Casino, would like to establish a new gambling facility in Connecticut to compete with casinos being built in Massachusetts.

“I don’t see Connecticut doing it,” Malloy said Monday morning when asked about the concept. “But that’s, at least initially, a legislative matter to be taken up. I’m not playing a lead role in this.”

The governor recalled the state’s aborted efforts to legalize keno, a bingo-style game played in bars and restaurants in many states. Policymakers approved the game to generate revenue in the 2013 budget. However, the move was unpopular with voters and the game was never implemented. Lawmakers reversed course and repealed keno in this year’s budget.

“I don’t think there’s a consensus in Connecticut that people want a lot more gaming, vis-a-vis keno, which is played in every state around us but isn’t played in Connecticut,” Malloy said. “Having said that, I think this is largely a legislative matter. My administration is not playing a direct role in this. I’ll have conversations with legislative leaders if and when they want to have those discussions, but I’m not generating them.”

Sen. Martin Looney, a New Haven Democrat who will take over as Senate president next year, said he was not taking any options off the table, but he called the possibility of establishing a new gaming site “remote” and said he agreed with the governor.

“I don’t think there’s any ground swell of immediate interest in another casino,” he said. Looney also pointed to the controversy over legalizing keno. “Having an entirely new casino would be even more controversial than keno. It makes it pretty unlikely at this point.”

Looney said it would be a couple years before a new casino in Massachusetts begins to impact gaming revenue in Connecticut and he said any talks about establishing a new gaming site here would have to include both the Mohegan tribe and the Mashantucket Pequot tribe that runs the Foxwoods casino. If the state did decide to allow a new facility it would likely not be located on a tribal reservation, and Looney said the parameters of the agreement would be open for debate.

“The state might look for a bigger share of the revenues,” he said.

House Speaker Brendan Sharkey said he was willing to listen to ideas for keeping the state’s casinos competitive.

“I’m open to hearing what may be needed to help the tribes continue to succeed here, but first and foremost any potential changes in our policy regarding casino gambling must be done in a way that protects and benefits taxpayers. I’m also very concerned about the social impact of expanded gambling, and that must be fully understood and be part of any discussions as well,” he said. 

In a statement Monday, Mohegan Tribal Council Chairman Kevin Brown said the tribe was not so much looking to expand gaming as it was trying to make sure the state has a plan to compete with new casinos in the region.

“Gaming competition is accelerating in New England, and construction in Springfield will have an impact on jobs and tourism at Connecticut’s resorts. The most effective way to address that competition, and to protect jobs here, is for all of the involved parties to sit down and gather data and community input and to develop an appropriate and effective plan,” Brown said.

Prior to the 2014 legislative session, a group of lawmakers convened a task force to explore an idea aimed at preventing gaming revenues from drifting to new casinos in nearby states. The concept, which was never acted upon by the legislature, was to permit video slots at Shoreline Star Greyhound Park in Bridgeport, the Sports Haven in New Haven, and the Bradley Tele-Theater in Windsor Locks.

One of the lawmakers on that task force, Rep. Peggy Sayers, D-Windsor Locks, released a statement Nov. 5 calling for “bold and immediate action to protect and expand our state’s gaming industry” by working with the tribes to identify facilities in the state to offer new gaming options.

“We have studied this issue, we have years of experience working with the gaming resorts here, and we are ready to take action,” she said. “Connecticut has been a leader in the region, and we are in the best possible position to compete.”