Courtesy of CT-N
Rep. Scott Storms, R-Windsor, introduced an amendment that would have required a referendum (Courtesy of CT-N)

HARTFORD, CT — Geographic divides, more so than partisan, emerged Monday as a key committee debated legislation to allow Connecticut’s two federally recognized Indian tribes to build a casino in East Windsor.

The Appropriations Committee approved a bill on a 33-13 vote that will allow the tribes to build a casino at the old Showcase Cinemas site off I-91 in East Windsor. Those who opposed allowing the bill to move forward included lawmakers from north central Connecticut, who proposed an amendment that would require East Windsor to hold a referendum paid for by the tribes in order to approve the project.

The amendment was narrowly defeated when 20 lawmakers voted against it and 19 voted in favor.

East Windsor was chosen by the tribes as the host community because of its ideal location to head off traffic heading north to the new MGM Resorts International casino in Springfield, Mass. However, there’s separate bill that would open up the bidding process and allow other casino operators to bid on opening a commercial casino in the state.

MGM, which is prohibited from building another casino within 50 miles of Springfield, has suggested that Fairfield County is a better location because it would capture the New York City market. They said there are other casino operators who would also be interested in commercial gaming opportunities in Connecticut, which strictly limits gaming to the casinos managed by the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribal nations.

“If we are a team in the state of Connecticut there are communities like the city of Bridgeport and others that have been riding the bench. What do we want to do?” Rep. Christopher Rosario, D-Bridgeport, said. “We want to get in the game.”

Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, said she too would reconsider her support for the legislation if it doesn’t mean jobs for her community.

Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, said the legislation is necessary because the MGM casino in Springfield will directly impact the two southeastern Connecticut casinos by siphoning off customers and jobs.

She said there are 6,000 workers in her district that head to work every day at the two casinos. But there are also workers from 149 Connecticut cities and towns who also work at the casinos.

She said the tribes provide funding for all 169 towns and some special taxing districts in the state.

“I would ask my colleagues to support this as a good jobs bill,” Osten said.

State Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, said the bill “is an important opportunity to protect what we have.”

He said he considers it an economic bill.

There’s a concern that a third casino off tribal land could prompt the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which must approve a revenue sharing deal with the state, to reduce or eliminate the amount of slot revenue the tribes currently share.

The Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequots send 25 percent of their slot revenue to the state. They would share 25 percent of the slot revenue at the new casino and 25 percent of the table games.

MGM Resorts International has lobbied against the bill and asked the state of Connecticut to open the bidding process on commercial gaming facilities. There’s another bill that would allow for an open bidding process. But if the state doesn’t give the tribes exclusivity, then it will lose the current revenue sharing agreement it has with them.

That’s a concern for lawmakers who are struggling to balance the state budget.

But those financial and legal concerns likely will be addressed when the bill is debated in the state Senate.