The former Showcase Cinemas off I-91 in East Windsor was chosen by Connecticut’s two federally-recognized Indian tribes as the preferred location for the state’s first casino off tribal land.
A 5-0 vote by the East Windsor Board of Selectmen on Saturday paved the way for East Windsor to be chosen over two locations in Windsor Locks.
East Windsor determined it would not need a local referendum of taxpayers to move forward with the proposal.
Sen. Tim Larson, who represents the district, said that it’s great news for East Windsor and the state.
“It’s not that East Hartford or Hartford didn’t win the casino — Connecticut won the casino which will generate revenue, create and retain jobs, and add to our tourism portfolio,” Larson said.
MMCT Venture LLC, the joint business venture between the Mohegan Tribal Nation and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, pitched the state on opening a third casino two years ago to compete with the one being built by MGM Resorts International in Springfield, Mass.
That $950 million MGM casino in Springfield is scheduled to open in fall, 2018.
The two tribes came to the General Assembly two years ago to ask them for permission to build a third casino to blunt the competition and spare Connecticut jobs. The original request to build three new casinos was eventually reduced to one.
The $300 million casino being proposed by the tribes would be around 200,000 square feet. It would include 2,000 slot machines and 50 to 150 tables.
Felix Rappaport, president and CEO of Foxwoods Resort Casino, said they could probably save about 46 percent of the jobs that would be lost if they did nothing in response to the MGM casino in Springfield. He said they could also recapture about 53 percent of the gaming revenue that would go further north if they do nothing.
The East Windsor agreement states that MMCT will pay the town $3 million no later than 15 months before the facility opens and $3 million annually on top of regular tax payments, which are estimated to be about $5.5 million per year. The two tribes have also promised to use union labor and make sure no less than 4 percent of the casino workforce will be made up of East Windsor residents, and no less than 15 percent will live within a 25-mile radius of the facility.
An estimated 75 percent of the positions at the new casino will be full-time, according to a press release from the tribes.
Uri Clinton, senior vice president and legal counsel for MGM Resorts International, told Connecticut lawmakers last week that they are paying the city of Springfield $25 million a year.
He encouraged lawmakers to rethink the exclusivity they’ve given the tribes to build Connecticut’s first commercial casino and encouraged them to go out to bid for a new commercial casino, if the state is serious about expanding gaming.
Rep. Daniel Rovero, D-Dayville, told Clinton that the more he talks, the more he thinks Connecticut isn’t getting the best deal under the proposal from the tribes.
He seemed to be just one of a handful of lawmakers who were wavering on giving the tribes exclusivity over a third casino.
In a statement through a spokesman Saturday, MGM Resorts International continued to encourage the General Assembly to open up the bidding process to all casino operators.
“The only way Connecticut opens its first commercial casino in a way that benefits the entire state is by scrapping this charade and creating a fair, open, transparent, and competitive process,” MGM said in a statement.
MMCT Ventures will need the legislature’s permission to move forward with a third casino.
MGM Resorts International has already sued Connecticut alleging it’s violating the U.S. Constitution by giving exclusivity to the two tribes. The U.S. District Court tossed the lawsuit saying it was too soon to file it. MGM appealed and the Second Circuit Court has yet to rule.
Connecticut’s Attorney General George Jepsen has raised concerns about the state’s ability to defend giving exclusivity to the tribes for casino gaming, off the reservation.
Lawmakers have yet to address the constitutional issues raised in the lawsuit.
The General Assembly will have to pass a law legalizing a commercial casino before the tribes’ can move forward.
Mohegan Tribal Chairman Kevin Brown told reporters last week that the General Assembly has to get it passed this session.