Courtesy of MGM
Artistic rendering of a Bridgeport waterfront casino (Courtesy of MGM)

HARTFORD, CT — Lawmakers from Bridgeport and New Haven are teaming up to push their colleagues to open up the bidding process for a commercial casino in Bridgeport.

Last year, lawmakers approved a deal that would allow for the Mashantucket Pequots and the Mohegan Tribal Nation to get the required federal approvals to build a casino in East Windsor. That casino was supposed to head off traffic to the new MGM Resorts International casino opening this summer in Springfield, Mass.

The U.S. Department of Interior has refused to take action on the changes to the tribal gaming compact submitted last summer and has argued in court documents that there’s no timeline that applies because the compact the Mashantucket Pequots have with Connecticut was submitted by a mediator.

While the tribal casino in East Windsor has gotten bogged down in court, MGM and its lobbyists have continued to work on getting legislators to open up the bidding process.

At stake is the slot revenue the two tribes share with the state of Connecticut. If the tribes, which operate the Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort casinos no longer have the exclusive right to gaming in Connecticut, those revenues disappear.

The bill being proposed by the Bridgeport and New Haven delegations would establish the first step in a two-step, competitive process that would direct the Commissioners of Consumer Protection and Economic and Community Development to solicit responses to an RFP for a proposed commercial casino gaming facility; evaluate the responses; and select a single, qualified responder for the legislature to consider.

The RFP process outlined in the bill complies with the current tribal compacts. It is limited to only allowing the state to conduct an informed evaluation of the qualifications of the bidder and the economic benefits that might result from any proposals.

Lawmakers who are proposing the bill said it does not jeopardize the current revenue streams from the compacts because no license will be issued to a new casino operator without additional and independent legislative action.

“The numbers tell the story,” Rep. Chris Rosario, D-Bridgeport, said. “As has happened in every other state that licenses commercial casinos, a competitive process will bring Connecticut the best deal, in terms of jobs, economic development, community benefits, and support for our local businesses.”

He said the process would allow MGM or the tribes or anyone else interested propose a bid.

“All of us understand just how important jobs are to our state and, most importantly, to our families, and that commitment is an essential element of this bill, as it should be,” Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, said. “This is a real opportunity for us to maximize jobs and revenue. It is an opportunity we cannot afford to let go by.”

But the tribes don’t see it that way.

“Let’s call this bill what it is – the MGM Massachusetts Protection Act,” Andrew Doba, a spokesman for the joint tribal venture, said. ”A bill that will cost Connecticut $1 billion dollars in revenue and eliminate 4,000 jobs was a bad idea last year, and is still a bad idea.”

But Uri Clinton, vice president and legal counsel for MGM, said the legislation “mirrors industry best practices by establishing a truly competitive, open and transparent process.”

He said its similar to the process used by Massachusetts four years ago.

Connecticut lawmakers said the bill directs the RFP process to include a $5 million deposit for each application; refundable if the applicant is not selected or the General Assembly does not authorize a facility. The RFP would also require a community impact mitigation fee of at least $8 million for surrounding infrastructure, emergency responders, and law enforcement; and host community acceptance of gaming expansion by means of a local referendum.

The Bridgeport and New Haven delegation are envisioning a casino that at a minimum employees 2,000 people and gives 25 percent of the annual gross gaming revenue to the state and an additional 10 percent annual gross gaming revenue from video slots to be used for education grants. The casino must invest $500 million in the facility, including a $50 million nonrefundable license fee.

The legislation is expected to be filed Wednesday when the 2018 General Assembly session opens.

Unite Here, has organized a 5:30 p.m. press conference with officials from MGM today to announce their agreement with the casino operator to provide “good union jobs for the proposed world class resort destination in Bridgeport.”