Two tribal chairmen, a delegation of casino workers, and several Democratic lawmakers warned that Connecticut could lose as many as 18,000 jobs if the state fails to expand gambling.
They rallied support for a bill, that would allow for the creation of up to three gaming facilities to be operated in a joint venture between the Mashantucket Pequot tribe and the Mohegan tribe.
The tribes have not released many details about their vision, but have said the smaller-scale and easy-access facilities would be designed to attract the “convenience gamer” in areas threatened by out-of-state gambling ventures.
The proposal comes a week before MGM is set to break ground on an $800 million casino in Springfield, Mass.
Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, as recently as last November, said he doesn’t “think there’s a consensus in Connecticut that people want a lot more gaming.”
A recent Quinnipiac University poll shows he might be right.
According to the poll, 75 percent of voters said there should not be more casinos in Connecticut. The poll found 59 percent of voters oppose the two tribes operating a smaller casino near the Massachusetts and New York border. However, the poll also found 69 percent of voters agreed that it’s better for Connecticut that people who like to gamble spend their money in Connecticut than take it to other states. An estimated 56 percent of voters surveyed have never visited one of the two casinos.
“Listen, I think the issue of casinos in our state is settled. We have two casinos,” Malloy said Tuesday.
He said gaming opportunities are no longer exclusive to Connecticut and gaming is available in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New York. Malloy said the proposal to expand gaming was proposed by lawmakers and he will make a decision about whether to sign legislation if it comes to his desk.
As for public perception, Malloy said he doesn’t want the public to think about this as a revenue grab for the state. Under the current agreement the state has with the two tribes, the state receives 25 percent of the slot revenue, but that revenue has declined over the years.
“I do understand the argument they’re making is about jobs,” Malloy said. “I’ll listen to those arguments, but this is not my proposal.”
At the public hearing, Mashantucket Pequot Chairman Rodney Butler and Mohegan Chairman Kevin Brown said expansion is not about increasing revenue, but preserving it in the face of competition.
“We’re going to see millions, tens of millions, in revenue loss. Step one is preserving as much of that as possible. Are we going to preserve it all? Probably not. Let’s all be realistic about this. Are we going to preserve every job? That’s going to be difficult,” Butler said.
Casino employees and union members, who were dressed in bright blue shirts with “Jobs” emblazoned across the front and back, chanted “pass the bill” during a press conference just before the public hearing. Speakers included Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, and Assistant President Pro Tempore Cathy Osten, D-Norwich, as well as representatives from various unions.
Looney said the bill is necessary because Massachusetts is “frankly doing its best to steal our jobs and to hurt us economically.”
Connecticut recently 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 — and, according to Butler, the tribes were OK with it too. But the move was unpopular with voters and the General Assembly repealed it a year later.
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.
But now Connecticut’s gambling industry no longer has the luxury of time when it comes to legislative action, according to Butler.
“We don’t have years. The time is now,” Butler said. “If we’re still debating this next year, we’ve failed.”
Brown said Mohegan Sun would survive with or without the passage of the bill. “But by not passing SB 1090, we will likely be forced to right-size our business and eliminate thousands of jobs, an impact that will be significant on those great employees, not to mention vendors from throughout the entire state of Connecticut.”
The Mashantucket Pequot tribe currently supports 7,000 employees with a $330 million payroll, Butler said. The tribe spends more than $116 million on outside vendors, not including costs associated with the Tanger outlet mall slated to open in May. That venture will create another 900 permanent jobs, Butler added.
Opposition to the proposal, however, is wide-ranging.
Many residents and social service organizations oppose the proliferation of casinos in the state because of the negative effects of gaming on surrounding communities.
Groups such as the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling cite an economic and social impact study released in 2009 that addressed a population of approximately 32,000-40,000 probable pathological gamblers in the state, with an additional 192,000 people at risk of gambling addiction. Resulting societal ills range from anxiety and depression among those affected to increased crime and suicide rates, according to council director Tamara Petro’s testimony.
Meanwhile, other gaming operations see the joint venture between the tribes as an unfair threat.
Ted Taylor, who represented the Britain-based off-track betting company Sportech Inc., testified that his company has invested $5 million over the past two years to expand its Windsor Locks operations.
“Opening another facility, let’s say five miles down the road from us, will just extract leisure and entertainment revenue from us to another employer,” Taylor said.
Sportech paid $5.5 million in taxes to the state last year, according to Taylor’s estimate; $3.5 million of that went to more than a dozen municipalities in which the company operates.
Anne Noble, president and CEO of the Connecticut Lottery Corp., said she hopes the legislature will preserve the lottery’s exclusive rights to sell lottery products outside of the reservations.
Noble said the Connecticut Lottery contributed $319.5 million to the state’s general fund in 2014 — approximately $30 million more than the combined total from the two casinos.
Specifics such as the amount of revenue the state would receive and the availability of gambling addiction resources for affected municipalities have not yet been determined.