HARTFORD, CT —The Bridgeport and New Haven delegation in the House refused to let their leadership run more bills Thursday until they got a debate on a bill that could lead to a commercial casino off tribal land.
They succeeded in getting that debate at 10:30 p.m. Thursday. However, the debate was suspended more than an hour later at 11:44 p.m. with promises the bill would be raised again Friday.
Rep. Steven Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, said they didn’t know going into the debate that it would be as “attenuated” as it was.
Rep. J.P. Sredzinski, R-Monroe, pointed out that expanding gaming in Connecticut is not a partisan issue, but a geographical issue. It pits the Bridgeport and New Haven area with southeastern Connecticut, which is home to the state’s two tribal casinos.
House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said they tabled the bill because not everyone wanted to have a debate at such a later hour.
“Our plan was always to have a vote,” Ritter said. “Just not this late.”
A vote on the bill is tied now to budget negotiations, which finally started on Thursday.
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, promised the Bridgeport and New Haven delegation a vote on the issue earlier this week. The bill’s fate in the Senate is less certain.
Uri Clinton, senior vice president and legal counsel for MGM Resorts, had been meeting with legislators all day at the state Capitol before the bill was called.
“MGM has been unwavering in our commitment to build a destination resort in Connecticut,” Clinton said. “We remain ready and willing to participate in an open, transparent, competitive process, consistent with industry best practices, that offers a chance to compete to do business in Connecticut. That approach was overwhelmingly approved by a legislative committee. It is the best way for the state to maximize jobs, economic growth and revenue.”
The bill, which has been backed by MGM Resorts International, has been a priority for a group of lawmakers who represent the geographical area between New Haven and Bridgeport.
The company is looking to build a casino in Bridgeport, but Connecticut’s two federally recognized tribes, the Mashantucket Pequots and the Mohegan Tribal Nation, have the exclusive right to gaming in Connecticut. The tribes own Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort Casino in southeastern Connecticut and they teamed up to build a new casino in East Windsor to help catch traffic headed north to the MGM Resort casino in Springfield, Mass.
The tribes ability to build that East Windsor casino hinges on a decision from the U.S. Interior Department regarding their revenue sharing agreement. The federal government has yet to rule on the tribes request and the tribes along with the state have sued U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and the department.
The tribal chairman visited the state Capitol Wednesday and asked legislative leaders to pass legislation that would eliminate their need for approval from the U.S. Interior Department, which is being investigated by the department’s inspector general for its handling of the tribes’ application.
Stafstrom said the bill simply says that if Connecticut is going to discuss casinos in the state “we need to make sure everyone who wants to have an opportunity to bid can lay their cards on the table.”
The bill invites casino operators to submit their bids within 90 days to the Departments of Community Development and Consumer Protection. It should involve an investment of at least $500 million and the creation of 2,000 jobs.
The bill would require a $5 million deposit for each application from a casino operator. The casino should provide $8 million annually to a host community.
Stafstrom said the bill doesn’t impact the tribes proposal for a casino in East Windsor and it doesn’t prohibit them from bidding on a new casino.
The casino also would need permission to break ground from a future legislature.