HARTFORD, CT — It’s unclear how far the Bridgeport and New Haven lawmakers are willing to go to get a vote on a bill that would expand casino gaming by opening a bid process for a fourth casino.
Would they shut down the session and kill all the bills waiting to be called just days before adjournment?
“That’s still under discussion,” Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, said Friday morning as she walked into a closed-door caucus.
Walker stressed that the legislation isn’t just about a casino. It’s about economic development for the New Haven and Bridgeport corridor, which could stretch as far south as Fairfield and as far north as North Haven.
“We want a destination,” Walker said. “We don’t want just casinos.”
Rep. Chris Rosario, D-Bridgeport, said the bidding process would be open to everyone.
There’s criticism that since MGM Resorts International has proposed building a casino in Bridgeport that somehow this legislation, which MGM has been lobbying, would solely benefit them.
Rosario said the two federally recognized tribes, which operate the Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casino in southeastern Connecticut, have not be “truthful” with the Bridgeport delegation.
“As recently as two days ago they told us they would still be interested in Bridgeport if they were the sole bidder,” Rosario said. “And in six months if you don’t like our proposal then you can open it up.”
Andrew Doba, a spokesman for MMCT the joint tribal venture, said talks of expanding gaming without the tribes will put at risk millions of dollars.
“Let’s be clear, the only thing this bill accomplishes is to place in jeopardy nearly $1.4 billion is state tax revenue, $328 million of which is slated to go directly to cities and towns, “Doba said. “Any legislator who votes for this bill is going to have to head back to their community and explain why they voted to place millions in funding in jeopardy, funding that helps with providing services and keeping taxes down. Those are tough questions to answer any year, but particularly in an election year.”
Rosario said it’s “too little, too late.”
He said he still thinks the tribes have the upper hand if the bidding process is opened because they’re the “home team.”
However, MGM came knocking on Bridgeport’s door “and they want to take us to the prom.”
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said he understands a Bridgeport casino is important to economic development in that area and “we have good partners in the tribes and the folks from southeast Connecticut.”
He said the discussion is ongoing.
“It’s not an easy issue for any of us,” Aresimowicz said. “But that’s not going to stop us from doing any of the business we need to in the House.”
Aresimowicz said he didn’t know if he had the votes in the Democratic caucus to pass the casino bill.
“I don’t know if it would pass with enough votes from our side of the aisle,” Aresimowicz said.
However, there are Republican lawmakers who are in favor of the legislation and there’s a belief among lobbyists for the various parties that it would pass the House.
But the clock is ticking and it’s unclear how long a debate might go.
Aresimowicz said he doesn’t believe they’re going to get to a point where business in the House stops over one piece of legislation.
“We all understand our roles and we have our passions, but we also know we have a larger responsibility,” Aresimowicz said.
House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said there is still a lot of work to get done.
“If we don’t pass a budget then we have no Medicare Savings Program,” he said. “We have a motor vehicle tax rate of 45 [mills] that hits the cities really hard so we all get frustrated from time to time when things don’t move exactly how we want, but there’s a bigger picture here and I think we all realize that.”