Elizabeth Regan
Barbara Pearce, owner of Pearce Real Estate, and Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council (Elizabeth Regan)

The two sovereign Indian tribes planning to build a satellite casino north of Hartford have released a request for proposals for potential host municipalities, but it leaves much to the imagination.

The joint business venture authorized by the state legislature allows the two tribes — operating as MMCT Venture LLC — to enter into conversations with municipalities interested in hosting the smaller-scale gaming operation they envision for the Hartford area.

The RFP describes the tribes’ plans for the size of the facility not in square footage but in expected foot traffic: “MMCT anticipates planning, designing, constructing and operating the Facility that would service 10,000 visitors daily. The facility would be programmed to provide ample parking, food and beverage and other amenities that would result in a first-class experience for these visitors and would complement the existing assets of the community and region.”

When the new business partnership was first announced last month, Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council Chairman Rodney Butler and Mohegan Tribal Council Chairman Kevin Brown said the casino will have around 2,000 slot machines and roughly 100 to 150 gaming tables, but the exact details won’t be determined until they have a confirmed location.

Developers have pitched the Enfield Square Mall and the former Showcase Cinemas in East Hartford as possible locations. There also has been talk of using the former Showcase Cinemas location in East Windsor.

Last week, the East Hartford proposal was approved unanimously by that town’s Planning and Zoning commission; Enfield is scheduled to hold a “casino community conversation” with its residents Thursday evening, according to the town website.

Municipalities must respond to the RFP by Nov. 6 to be considered as a possible site. A final decision will be announced by Dec. 15.

Brown and Butler must come back to the General Assembly in February to get approval to build the casino after choosing a specific location.

If and when that happens,  Butler said he would expect it to take 12-15 months to build the new facility.

Brown told reporters on Thursday that the release of the RFP doesn’t add much to what has already been heavily publicized in the press.

“The process is diligent, transparent and it’s underway. That’s all we’re really here to tell you,” he said from the lobby of the State Office Building, where the tribes submitted the RFP to the Department of Consumer Protection. “. . . The process is moving forward and there’s not a doggone thing about it to explain.”

Asked to explain if the RFP includes any specifics about what the tribes are looking for, Brown said the parameters are in there:  “Standard parameters that can qualify a proposal as even being feasible in the first place, then we can go back and look at which one is the best one.”

But the RFP does not include desired specifications. Instead, it asks interested municipalities for details about governmental structure as well as permitting requirements, taxation and public safety accommodations. The property form asks for tax information, zoning maps and surveys and includes questions focused on accessibility and visibility from the nearest Interstate highway. 

A city or town may submit more than one property for consideration.

Barbara Pearce, owner of Pearce Real Estate and the overseer of the RFP process, said the biggest factors in the decision are time and money. “Honestly, the two tribes want what any buyer would want: they want the easiest possible site to develop in the shortest amount of time with the fewest costs.”

The satellite casino was conceived as a way to keep what the tribes have referred to as “convenience gamers” from crossing the border into Massachusetts. It’s there that an $800 million casino in Springfield operated by MGM Resorts International is slated to open in the fall of 2018.

MGM filed a federal lawsuit earlier this year against the state of Connecticut alleging that the new law allowing the tribes to form the joint business venture and negotiate with municipalities is unconstitutional because it “is a race-based set-aside in favor of the two Preferred Tribes at the expense of all other tribes, races, and entities.”

On Thursday, Brown told reporters that MGM should mind its own business.

“What I would suggest is that MGM should focus on their property in Springfield and we will focus on maintaining the market that we currently own,” he said.

“Massachusetts opened their doors to gaming because they recognized the very same thing that we’re talking about here today for Connecticut: Casinos equals jobs, casinos equals revenue and it equals revenues that aren’t lost across [the] border to another state. We’re just on the other side of that same equation. And so we’ll proceed,” Brown said.