Against the backdrop of a planned $120 million hotel project at Mohegan Sun Casino, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy distanced himself from legislative attempts to expand gambling in the state.
“This is not my proposal,” Malloy told reporters Thursday at the Uncasville casino. “Other people are making it. I’m not saying no, I’m not saying yes.”
Rep. Stephen D. Dargan, D-West Haven, co-chairman of the Public Safety and Security Committee, said a bill has not been submitted to his committee, but discussion at the Capitol has revolved around establishing a gaming facility along the Interstate 91 corridor north of Hartford.
Leaders from the Mohegan Tribe and Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation have floated the idea by legislative leaders, according to Dargan. He expects a bill to show up shortly before the March 19 committee deadline.
Mohegan Tribe Chairman Kevin Brown said efforts to establish a dialogue with legislators about expanded gaming have intensified over the last week and a half. “We just want to take that first step — we’ve clearly taken it over the past seven to 10 days — of getting the legislature engaged enough to see that some sort of change is required. The next step would be to develop exactly what that looks like,” he said.
Brown said the Mohegan Tribe has been working with the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation at an “unprecedented” level to expand gambling in the state. The two tribes have exclusive rights to operate slot machines and commercial casino games in Connecticut.
While declining to go into specifics about the tribes’ joint vision, Brown pointed to the “convenience gamer” — unlike the “destination gamer” currently served by the two resorts — as the focus of the proposed endeavor. He said the tribes want to provide gamblers with easier access so they don’t spend their money elsewhere.
Such a move would signal another volley in what some characterize as an “nuclear arms race” that has resulted in the proliferation of casinos in the Northeast.
Malloy said the MGM Springfield casino set to open in 2017 is a direct threat to gaming revenue and jobs in the state. “Whether it’s nuclear or not, obviously gaming is becoming ubiquitous. And so when you have a state on your northern border that is going to have at least six establishments, that’s an issue. When Rhode Island improves their facilities, that’s an issue,” he said. “I think the tribal nations have said, ‘Hey, we think this is a way to handle that.’”
Malloy, who was at Mohegan Sun for the unveiling of the casino’s plans for the 400-room Earth Hotel, applauded the second hotel as a way to enhance the “full gaming experience.”
But he said he is open to the tribes’ proposal to serve a different segment of the gambling population.
“Obviously they’re talking about a different gaming experience,” he said. “I’ll take a look at it.”
A Northeastern Gaming Research Project report released Tuesday said revenue from the two casinos in the state has declined by 39 percent since peaking in 2006. For Foxwoods, that translates to total revenue in 2014 of $892 million, down from $1.6 billion in 2006. Mohegan Sun Casino brought in $1 billion in 2014 compared to $1.6 billion eight years earlier.
The number of employees at the casinos decreased 37 percent in the same time period, according to the report.
It’s the job situation that Malloy and lawmakers such as Dargan cite as the most important factor in any deliberations on the matter.
“I do know that we’re losing jobs as a result of more gaming in the rest of New England and New York,” Malloy said. “I’d be interested in seeing the jobs side of it before I make any determination.”
Dargan said the impact on jobs extends beyond the casinos’ payrolls to the vendors with whom they do business. That reality will be part of an expanded dialogue when the bill gets a public hearing.
“We should look at it from the job perspective and at least have that conversation,” he added.