East Windsor and South Windsor are the latest players in the high-stakes game of possible locations for a new casino in Connecticut.
The two towns have joined East Hartford, Hartford, and Windsor Locks as prospective locations for a new facility owned and operated by the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes, according to an announcement this week from MMCT Venture.
MMCT Venture, a business entity created following the passage of legislation that allows the two tribes to site a third casino off tribal land, said it also received an application from Plymouth, but the application is not being considered because it falls outside the scope of the project.
The idea behind the project is to stop traffic heading north to a new MGM Resorts International casino in Springfield, just over the Massachusetts border. That casino is slated to open in 2018.
MMCT Venture announced in September that they would reopen the bidding and that new submissions were to be submitted by Oct. 15.
“Now more than ever, the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes are confident that the site we select will make our facility competitive with MGM Springfield,” said Kevin Brown, chairman of the Mohegan Tribal Council. “We look forward to reviewing and comparing these new and amended submissions and continuing a dialogue with Connecticut’s communities about how we can work together to save jobs and revenue in our state.”
The General Assembly would still have to approve the project, but in the meantime it created a process for the tribes to form a business entity and entertain discussions about where to locate the new casino.
“Our two tribes are now one step closer to keeping thousands of jobs and millions of dollars within Connecticut’s borders,” Rodney Butler, Chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council, said. “MMCT Venture is eager to explore our options, and ultimately build this facility in a community that values the tax revenue we’ll bring to the town’s grand list.”
Pearce Real Estate, a Connecticut-based real estate company, administered the bidding process. The proposals are being evaluated.
South Windsor’s casino bid involves a vacant development zone along Interstate 291 between I-84 and I-91, according to town officials.
South Windsor is partnering with DCK Worldwide, an international construction firm that has agreed to develop 22 town-owned acres at the site, Town Manager Matthew Galligan said.
Galligan said Tuesday that a casino in South Windsor would be an economic driver for the town and the region.
“It would bring in $2.6 million to $3 million in taxes,” Galligan said. “But more importantly, it would create jobs, hundreds of them, in the service industries that the casino industry employs.”
Galligan pointed out that not everybody is a college graduate and a casino could provide primary jobs or second jobs for high school graduates in the area.
“It would also make this area of the state a destination point and other businesses would prosper because of it,” Galligan added.
But not every official in town is crazy about the idea.
“Attracting jobs and economic development to South Windsor is a priority,” South Windsor Town Council member Saud Anwar said. “But a gambling venue brings complex issues for any host town and this particular project is mired in uncertainty, and not a clear winner.”
Anwar suggested the town hold a referendum to give all South Windsor residents a say.
Galligan said there are checks and balances in place in the town’s zoning and permitting approval process to make sure any public concerns about a casino would be heard and vetted before final acceptance was given.
East Windsor, whose original request for site proposals was rejected, has put forward a plan that involves three parcels off I-91 that are occupied by a former Showcase Cinemas building, a former Walmart, and an existing Big Y supermarket.
First Selectman Robert Maynard said Tuesday that the town is “very happy’’ to be back in the casino bidding ballgame.
“This could mean a 20 percent boost to our grand list and $4 million in taxes to East Windsor,” Maynard said.
Maynard said the site the town is pushing is “right off the highway, has over 2,000 parking spaces sitting there vacant and ready to use.’’ He described the area as “kind of an eyesore right now,’’ with so much of the available space being “vacant and deteriorating.”
Asked whether he believed there was any downside to a casino being in East Windsor, Maynard answered: “There are always negatives. Some people will say gambling is a sin. Some people will say traffic, prostitution and/or crime could increase.
“But frankly our police department had a lot more activity when Walmart came to town,” said the first selectman, “dealing with shoplifters and so on.”
“I also think the traffic impact will be minimal,” Maynard added. “It is literally right off the highway. It wouldn’t have much if any impact on traffic flow in the town of East Windsor itself.”
MGM Resorts has sued state officials over the law that enabled the tribes to form their joint venture. A U.S. District Court judge granted the state’s motion to dismiss the suit, prompting MGM to appeal.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments in the case Nov. 28 in Manhattan.
Alan M. Feldman, executive vice president of MGM Resorts International, issued a statement criticizing the tribes’ continued strategy of trying to build a new casino.
“As we have been saying for quite some time, this so-called process is a sham,” Feldman said. “As a result of the passage of Special Act 15-7, the state is forced to let MMCT do whatever it wants, whenever it wants, and however it wants. If the state really wants to maximize the revenue and jobs associated with its first commercial casino it should repeal 15-7 and do what every other state does: have a fair, open, transparent, competitive process.”