Suddenly, the prospect of a glut of casinos along I-91 seems much less certain. This is bad news for governments who were banking on increased tourism and tax revenue, but good news for everyone else.
Casino proposals have been floated in East Windsor and Enfield, recently, as part of the deal the state cut with the Mohegan and Pequot tribes to stick a pop-up casino between Hartford and the Massachusetts line. The idea of this casino is to be a shiny lure to feeble-minded gamblers on their way to what is being billed as a much larger and fancier casino in Springfield.
Just one problem: nobody seems all that excited about the prospect of a casino coming to their town.
The Enfield Town Council heard a proposal from the folks who run the plucky-but-aging Enfield Square Mall to
Not exactly a ringing endorsement.
The East Windsor proposal would stick the casino in an abandoned, moldering Showcase Cinemas that can be seen from I-91. That town’s leadership seem a bit more enthused, but they’ve promised to put it to a referendum. That could be the kiss of death. Massachusetts had referendums on casinos in various towns, and nearly all of them failed. A proposal in East Hartford has wider support, but may be too far from Springfield for the tribes to take an interest.
Other towns want no part of this. The Windsor Town Council actually passed a resolution saying they didn’t want any sort of casino in their town.
Who can blame them? There are a lot of negatives associated with casinos, and the experiences of residents in Montville and Ledyard haven’t exactly been encouraging. Worse, a lawsuit by MGM may scuttle plans before they start.
Still, even if nothing is ever built in Enfield, East Hartford, or East Windsor, it’s not as if people won’t have plenty of opportunity to chuck their life savings down a slot machine when MGM opens just over the state line in Springfield, right?
Well . . . about that.
This week MGM unveiled a surprise “redesign” of their casino plans which scrapped a signature 25-story hotel tower, took a floor off the parking garage, and relocated the promised apartment block outside the casino footprint. MGM and their friends in the mayor’s office are busy pretending everything is fine, but this feels ominous. City leaders who were counting on the economic boost and the jobs MGM swore up and down they’d be providing are suddenly very nervous and feeling betrayed.
And, on Wednesday, MGM’s stock sank as news of declines in gaming revenue hit Wall Street. Casinos are not the cash cow they once were, partly because the market’s saturated. Cities all over the country have put in casinos, hoping to jumpstart their economies. What that’s meant, though, is that there are a lot of casinos, and not quite enough gambling dollars to go around.
Casinos in Rhode Island, Ohio, and Baltimore, among many other places, have seen their revenues decline. Baltimore’s Horseshoe Casino never did quite live up to expectations. Atlantic City continues to list. Even Connecticut’s two powerhouse casinos are seeing revenue drop.
To put it bluntly, this is a bad time to build more casinos. That’s why the Springfield “redesign” is so ominous, and why officials there are right to worry.
Combine the poor health of the gaming industry with public reluctance here in Connecticut, and I’m wondering if instead of two casinos along I-91, we may end up with none.
That would be fine with me. The negatives of casinos, from gambling addiction and crime to a shaky industry that might pull up stakes at any point, far outweigh the positives. I don’t think a casino is right for Enfield, or for East Windsor or Springfield.
There is a lesson for us in Springfield’s panic, though — it’s a very bad idea to put so much faith and money into a single private, for-profit company. Just ask New London, who put all their hopes in Pfizer — right up until the moment they left.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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