March 20, 2019

Bill allows EW casino

Rendering | Tribal Winds Casino
Rendering | Tribal Winds Casino
A rendering of the proposed $300 million casino in East Windsor.

The Tribal Winds Casino in East Windsor and a proposed gambling facility in Bridgeport got the backing of a legislative committee Tuesday, but the measures are far from done with debate.

Members of the Public Safety and Security Committee passed the proposals on to the General Assembly, along with two others that would permit sports betting and allow the purchase of lottery tickets online.

The Tribal Winds bill eliminates the requirement for approval by the U.S. Department of the Interior, which would enable the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes to begin construction in East Windsor.

While the General Assembly approved the Tribal Winds Casino last year, approval has stalled in Washington, D.C., preventing the tribes from constructing the satellite facility.

"I think legislators on the committee were persuaded that the federal review process of the East Windsor application was at the very least unfair, and perhaps even criminal, considering that the Justice Department is now reportedly investigating Ryan Zinke, the former Interior Department secretary who was in charge of reviewing the application," said Sen. Catherine A. Osten, D-Sprague,. "It doesn't take rocket science to figure out that something was terribly amiss with that process."

Osten, who introduced the bill, believes the Justice Department's investigation breathed life into her proposal in Connecticut.

"Now it's up to the full General Assembly to push it over the finish line so we can get to work on a new building and more jobs," she said.

Rep. Kurt Vail, R-Stafford, initially had reservations about allowing the tribes to build on private property, but he noted that the legislature approved it and the tribes have spent millions of dollars to prepare for construction, and he said the state should honor its commitment.

Under the casino open-bid bill, which was raised with the hope that MGM Resorts International would build a gambling facility in Bridgeport, the Department of Consumer Protection would develop and issue a request for proposals to qualify an entity to build a resort casino facility in the state. Tribal officials have said the bill's approval in the full legislature would immediately result in the state losing hundreds of millions of dollars in annual shared revenue.

The tribes have an exclusivity agreement with the state covering Connecticut's only casinos, Foxwoods Resort Casino and the Mohegan Sun.

If an RFP for a new casino were approved, the winning bidder would be required to contribute $8 million each year to the chosen municipality, along with additional revenue to surrounding towns.

Also Tuesday, committee members approved various bills that would allow sports gambling, online sports betting, and other forms of internet gambling, including purchasing lottery draw game tickets.

In its current form, the sports betting proposals would prohibit gambling on in-state collegiate events.

Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-Wallingford, objected to sports betting, with his primary concern being the potential for the integrity of sporting events to be compromised. He added that he believes the legislature would not consider the issue if it weren't for revenue.

"It seems to me this is all about money," he said. "I don't see this being of benefit to our state other than monetarily, and I think that's wrong."

Sen. Stephen T. Cassano, D-Manchester, who has been a proponent of allowing sports betting since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that states could legalize the industry, said people will gamble regardless of whether it's legal.

"We want a piece of the action," he said.

Sen. Daniel A. Champagne, R-Vernon, opposed several gambling bills due to concerns about the ability to make bets or purchase lottery tickets with credit or debit cards.

"My fear is that we're going to see quite a bit of that," he said. "I think it can get out of control. … Buying lottery tickets on credit shouldn't happen.

Committee members also voted to establish a Commission on Gaming and transfer oversight of gambling in the state from the Department of Consumer Protection to the new commission.

The expectation is that there would be 35 people moved from the consumer agency to manage the three-member commission, without any added cost to the state.

Critics argue that three people shouldn't be given the power to determine the future of gambling in the state.

Rep. Patrick S. Boyd, D-Pomfret, said he would prefer that Gov. Ned Lamont develop a comprehensive gambling plan that would have to be approved by the legislature.

Boyd said his concern is that the governor is having private discussions with the tribes to work out what can move forward without violating the state's exclusivity agreements, while lawmakers are taking action on bills that could jeopardize revenue from the existing casinos.

In addition to the multiple proposals to expand gambling, committee members also voted to fund programs to combat compulsive gambling and to study the effects of legalized gambling.

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