On Wednesday we got a brief look at the plans for a controversial new casino that the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes want to build in East Windsor. They’re not great, but what did you expect?
From the preliminary plan submitted to the town, it looks like a one-story casino floor attached to a five-story parking garage, which will be surrounded by a further sea of parking spaces: 2200 in all.
Now, I’m sure the concept will evolve and change, but wow, that’s underwhelming. This is what they’re using to compete with a monster casino and resort complex 15 miles up the road in Springfield? A single floor of casino and nothing else? Who will pull off of I-91 for that? It’s like putting a convenience store right next to a Target and expecting to run the Target out of business.
But then again, nothing about the East Windsor casino, the ongoing drama of casinos in Connecticut, or the casino industry as a whole makes a lot of sense.
The basic premise in itself is absurd. Here’s a multi-billion dollar industry centered around getting suckers to drop tons of money down a black hole in the vanishingly small hope of hitting it big. It’s a crass scam dolled up in glitz, glamour, and the illusion of wealth and good times.
Of course, it works pretty well. Humans fall for stuff like this all the time, it’s just how we’re wired. Take a look at the 2016 election if you don’t believe me.
But there’s a point past which there are not enough people to make every single casino a gold mine, and we hit that about a decade ago. It’s made the casino operators a lot more desperate and vicious.
Connecticut’s two tribal casinos have been facing stiffer competition than they had at the beginning of their run, but an MGM facility opening up just across the state line was a just too massive a threat to ignore. After all, the western Massachusetts market was one they themselves had wanted: Mohegan Sun had bid for a gaming license in Palmer before a referendum scuttled the idea.
And so, the two tribal casinos joined forces to put up a casino near the state line to screw MGM. They did this by making appeals to dimwitted lawmakers about Connecticut losing jobs and money to Massachusetts, and the state obediently went along.
MGM shot back by proposing to put a casino, retail, and hotel complex in Bridgeport — decently far from their operations in Springfield. That proposal has created a bigger mess, with Bridgeport legislators pushing for that plan instead of the one in East Windsor. The Bureau of Indian Affairs has been dragging their feet on approving the agreement with the tribes, too, so anything could happen.
And yet, the best possible outcome for Connecticut would be for neither proposal to ever be built.
Casinos and casino companies are vultures. They prey on cities and states who are so desperate that all of the negatives of having a casino, like gambling addiction, crime, and traffic, cease to matter.
MGM chose Springfield and Bridgeport for a reason. The area where the casino is going in Springfield was a part of downtown that was hit by a tornado in 2011, and the city had long been an economic basket case. Every town in western Massachusetts that was a possible casino site voted their proposals down in a referendum — except Springfield. Bridgeport is just as badly off, and willing to do anything to get itself out of the dumps —as is East Windsor.
Residents in all three places want the casino because they hope it’ll provide jobs. And sure, it will. Lousy jobs.
The Occupational Outlook Handbook, which is produced by the federal Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, says that gaming services workers earned a median salary of $20,810 in 2016. This is well below the national median salary of $37,040, and is not too far above the federal poverty line. That kind of money will get you exactly nowhere in Connecticut.
Casinos also encourage gambling addiction, which can ruin people. If you ever go to a casino, go onto the floor and watch the people at the slots. Watch their hollow eyes, their blank faces. This isn’t the kind of economic development we need or want.
Springfield will have its casino; it opens later this year. But Connecticut doesn’t need to play this game anymore. We should have the courage to tell MGM and the tribes to get lost.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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