An artist’s rendering of the now-scuttled Tribal Winds casino that had been planned for East Windsor.
SUSAN BIGELOW

I feel bad for poor East Windsor. The town sank all this time and effort into landing the spite casino that Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods wanted to build to intercept traffic heading for MGM Springfield, but what did it get them in the end? An empty lot full of rubble.

You probably forgot all about the East Windsor “Tribal Winds” casino, and who can blame you? But this week, a sports gaming deal between the state and the tribes finally put the nail in East Windsor’s coffin: the casino was dead. East Windsor’s leaders were unhappy and a few representatives on the Public Safety and Security Committee voted against the deal because of the casino being nixed, but that didn’t stop the deal from being passed out of the committee and on to the full legislature.

According to Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Chairman Rodney Butler, the scuttling of the Tribal Winds casino in East Windsor was something that originated in the governor’s office because of possible legal issues. But those casino plans had already been scaled back once, even before the pandemic hit. It’s not shocking that the tribes didn’t put up a big fight for it.

Why would they? The gaming legislation, among other things, grants them the right to develop another new casino … in Bridgeport. I’m sure that’s going to work out great, just like all the other Bridgeport casino proposals in the past.

There’s a lesson here, although it feels petty to spell it out. So here it is: casinos are really good at overpromising and under-delivering. It’s pretty much their whole business model. You know what the ads say: come on in to our casino, win tons of money and have the time of your life! And yet, when you get there, you’ll sit at a slot machine for an hour and a half, waste $400, and slink back home. Well, them’s the breaks, right? That’s what you get for betting against the house.

Casino corporations like the Connecticut tribes and MGM love promising the moon to potential new locations that might otherwise be wary of a big casino in their towns. They’ll offer everything from tons of new jobs and tax revenue to wholesale revitalization and, most importantly, relevance. We’ve sold casinos to Brockway, Odgenville, and North Haverbrook, and by gum, it put them on the map!

Reality is always sadder. MGM Springfield never really lived up to expectations even in the pre-COVID era, and chances are it never will. The casino market was oversaturated even before MGM sold its massive downtown complex to gullible Springfield city leaders, and if anything, the competition for shrinking casino dollars has only gotten more fierce. Hitching your city or town to the star of a dubious casino venture never seemed like a good idea before, and history has borne that out. Name for me the city that was revitalized by a casino. I’ll wait.

But the glitz and glamour casinos sell can be hard to resist if you’re a medium-sized town like East Windsor that was hit hard by the 2008 recession. It’s much worse if you’re a struggling city like Springfield or Bridgeport; casino companies are very good at sensing desperation and exploiting it. East Windsor never should have agreed to the casino, but it’s not hard to understand why they did.

Look, this isn’t just about bashing casinos, though they richly deserve the pasting. This is about towns and cities jumping at big-ticket shiny development options instead of spending all that time, energy, and money on the kind of small-scale, neighborhood development that actually makes places better. East Windsor has two vibrant, interesting villages in Broad Brook and Warehouse Point, plus some very cool attractions like the Connecticut Trolley Museum. It’s a town of farms, neighborhoods, historic locations and plenty of hidden treasures. There are some big box stores and fast food joints along Route 5, but that’s not what makes the place tick.

If East Windsor wants to put something meaningful on that hillside parcel between Route 5 and I-91, how about housing? Homes, condos, or apartments within easy walking distance of the Route 5 commercial strip and Warehouse Point could be a real winner. Plus, there’s a great view from up there.

As for Bridgeport, if they haven’t learned the lesson about chasing casino deals that can turn to dust at any moment by now, they never will.

This sports betting deal sounds like it’ll bring in revenue to the state, and that’s fine. I just wish we could do this without continuing to dangle casinos in front of towns, promising them big wins if they’ll only place their bets.

Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.

The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.

Susan Bigelow

Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.