March 18, 2016

Casino study bill defeated in committee

A legislative committee on Thursday narrowly defeated a bill that threatened to delay or derail the hopes of Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun to build a casino in Hartford County.

The Commerce Committee voted 11-7 against the bill, which would have required several state agencies to conduct or commission a study, due by early 2018, evaluating the costs and benefits of authorizing and licensing a commercial gaming facility in Connecticut, including a determination of which geographic location would maximize state revenue.

The study would have also examined the regulatory structure needed to oversee commercial gaming in Connecticut, which thus far has only tribal gaming with the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes, as well as what potential impacts there could be on the state's exclusive gaming-revenue compacts with the tribes. State revenue from those compacts has been waning, but still brought in $268 million in fiscal year 2015.

The two tribes have urged the legislature to allow it to build a third casino in northern Hartford County, which they argue would provide the greatest chance at stemming a flow of Connecticut gamblers — and potential revenue — from streaming to Springfield when MGM Resorts opens a casino there in late 2018.

MGM has sued the state over its arrangement with MMCT Venture, a joint venture formed by Foxwoods and Mohegan. MGM, which advocated for the bill defeated Thursday, sued Connecticut last year, arguing that its recent gaming law unfairly favors MMCT.

MGM commissioned its own study, showing that more net jobs would be saved in Connecticut by building a casino in Fairfield County.

Western Connecticut's Schaghticoke Tribal Nation, which has fought unsuccessfully for the federal recognition that would allow it to build a casino, also recently sued the state, and is receiving financial backing from MGM.

In a statement Thursday, MMCT spokesman Andrew Doba said:

"The issue at hand is simple. If we do nothing to compete against MGM Springfield, Connecticut will lose more than 9,000 jobs and over $100 million in state tax revenue. Those are the facts, and we appreciate the support we're getting from the many legislators who want to make sure that doesn't happen."

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