HARTFORD, CT — Preliminary plans to sweeten the deal regarding the expansion of casino gaming in Connecticut have changed quickly over the past 24 hours.
The Senate passed a bill on May 24 to allow the tribes to open a third casino off I-91 in East Windsor, sending the legislation to the House.
At first, the House had planned to get the Senate to pass a bill that would allow slot machines in off-track betting facilities in Waterbury, New Haven, and Bridgeport. There were also plans for a boutique casino in Hartford.
However, Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said Monday night that there was no support for those proposals in his caucus.
“There’s been some discussion, but there’s no agreement on that,” Looney said.
Next, the idea was floated by the House to amend the Senate bill with language that would give additional slot revenues from the tribes to New Haven, Bridgeport, Hartford, and Waterbury — without setting up slot machines in any of the four cities. If amended as such, the bill would then need to go back to the Senate for approval.
The House also wants the Senate to approve a bill that would make it easier for promoters of Mixed Martial Arts to hold matches in places like Bridgeport and Hartford. Currently, the only Mixed Martial Arts matches in Connecticut are held at the two tribal casinos because the requirements under tribal law make it easier to hold matches there.
But as things stood Monday night, off-track betting facilities would not be included as part of the deal.
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said he’s not sold on the idea of including a debate on casinos as part of a special session.
That leaves little time for the House and Senate to get a deal together on expanding casino gaming in Connecticut. The legislative session ends at midnight on June 7.
Also as of Monday night, another thing that appeared certain was that a proposal to allow another casino operator to bid for a Connecticut casino license would not be part of the deal.
MGM Resorts International had lobbied Connecticut lawmakers to open up the bidding process and allow a casino operator to establish a casino near the New York border in southwestern Connecticut. MGM is prohibited from opening a casino within 50 miles of the one it plans to open in Springfield, Mass. next year.
The Mashantucket Pequots and Mohegan tribal nations teamed up to open a casino in East Windsor to try to head off traffic to MGM’s casino. They still need the state’s permission to move forward with their proposal.
The tribes argue that Connecticut’s two Indian casinos in the southeastern part of the state will lose jobs as a result of MGM’s decision to build so close to the Connecticut border.
Looney said there wasn’t enough support in the Senate for any bill other than the one the Senate passed on May 24.
The Senate bill requires the tribes to get permission from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs to maintain the current 25 percent revenue sharing agreement with the state of Connecticut.
Under the legislation, the tribes would need to come back to the General Assembly following approval by the BIA and the governor in order to obtain the gaming license for the East Windsor facility.
It’s still unclear whether the House has enough votes to pass any legislation.