While the General Assembly is still considering legislation to allow new casinos in Connecticut, the Windsor Town Council is planning a pre-emptive step against gaming in their town.
Windsor is one of four towns along Interstate 91 north of Hartford where the state’s two tribes are hoping to get permission to open a new casino to compete with MGM Springfield, which broke ground on their casino last month. Members of Windsor’s Town Council say they have nearly unanimous, bipartisan support for a resolution against gaming facilities in town and they plan to act upon it during Monday night’s meeting.
Windsor’s resolution is in response to state legislation that would allow the Mohegan and Mashantucket Indian tribes to build a casino outside of their respective reservations. State lawmakers have been discussing allowing the two tribes to build three casinos — one along I-91 north of Hartford and one each along I-84 and I-95.
Aside from Windsor, the I-91 corridor north of Hartford includes Windsor Locks, East Windsor, and Enfield.
Windsor Town Councilman Al Simon, who drafted the resolution, said he’s spoken with a lot of Windsor residents who feel strongly that a casino doesn’t “fit with the character” of the town. He said it’s also not the type of “sustainable economic development” the town has been looking to attract.
He said he understands the legislation the General Assembly is debating would give the local legislative body — in this case, Windsor’s Town Council — an opportunity to vote on a casino, but he felt it was necessary to send a message in advance that it’s not wanted.
Republican Town Councilman Ken Wilkos agreed. He said he has his own issues about the state getting involved, but it definitely doesn’t fit with the character of Windsor.
Simon said Saturday that aside from the nearly unanimous opposition he’s heard from residents, Windsor’s zoning rules would not allow it to be located in town.
By passing a resolution in advance of any legislation, it gives direction to the town, Simon said.
Thus far, the legislation before the General Assembly has been approved by the Public Safety and Security Committee. But it still may be sent to other committees before it reaches the floor of the House or Senate.
Simon said the establishment of a casino is expected to attract “convenience” gamblers and will lead to further harmful social costs. The casino the two tribes are talking about building would be exclusively for gambling, which means that unlike their facilities in southeastern Connecticut there would be no hotels or music venues.
“The Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan Tribes would only consider sites in towns that would be supportive of the jobs and revenue a gaming facility would bring, and fully respect any town’s local decisions,” Patty McQueen, a spokeswoman for the tribes, said.
The tribes argue that the new casino is necessary in order to preserve gaming jobs in Connecticut.
A Northeastern Gaming Research Project report found that the number of jobs at the two casinos declined 37 percent over the last eight years. The heads of the two tribes told a legislative committee last month that allowing them to build a new gaming facility is about job retention.
However, there are those who don’t buy that argument.
“What’s not lost on me is that the tribes were in competition over state lines to build their own casinos,” Rep. Joe Verrengia, D-West Hartford, said last month. “Those same jobs, those same revenues they’re trying to protect today, are those same revenues, those same jobs that would have left the state if they had been successful.”
As negotiations move forward with the state and the host municipality, “I hope they drive a hard bargain,” Verrengia said.
The Windsor resolution points out that the two tribes were actively trying to acquire Massachusetts casino licenses before approaching the Connecticut General Assembly. A vote on Windsor’s resolution is expected to take place at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Windsor Town Hall.
There are only a handful of towns north of Hartford along the I-91 corridor. One of the towns that seems more open to casino development is Windsor Locks.
Last week, Windsor Locks First Selectman Steve Wawruck told WFSB that he wants the Bradley Teletheater, which hosts an off-track betting facility in his town, to be included in any deal with the casinos.
“With what’s being proposed at the Legislature, this place needs to be part of the mix to preserve jobs here,” Wawruck said.
Ted Taylor, head of Sportech, which operates 15 para-mutuel off-track betting shops in the state, said they invested $5 million in the Windsor Locks location last year in order to compete with MGM Springfield. He said his property is 10 miles from the Massachusetts border.
“Apart from Mohegan and Foxwoods we are the only other operator with gaming properties in the state and some of these could easily be enlarged,” Taylor told the Public Safety and Security Committee.