After a two-year push for authorization, the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribal nations are celebrating the June 7 approval of a bill paving the way for them to build Connecticut’s third casino. The House reached their 103-46 decision on the last day of the General Assembly’s annual session.
The joint casino venture, MMCT, will involve transforming a former movie theater complex in East Windsor into a $300 million satellite casino. The tribes, who operate Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun, respectively, have agreed to pay the state 25 percent of both the slot machine and table games revenue, an amount expected to tally to $60 million to $70 million a year.
Kevin Brown, Mohegan tribal chairman, underscored the significance of the tribal union.
“This is a very historic time for the Mohegan and Pequot Tribes, two tribes that were once one in the early 1600s, two tribes that have competed against each other, combatted each other, separated from each other and competed on the landscape of gaming nine miles apart with two casinos of nearly equal size, two of the largest casinos in the western hemisphere,” Brown said. “We are now joined together again as tribes, as a family and as business partners in a venture to build a third casino in the state of Connecticut, a commercial venture off reservation.”
The East Windsor site sits roughly 25 minutes away from MGM Resorts’ International’s $950 million casino underway in Springfield, Massachusetts, slated to open in late 2018.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is expected to sign the bill awarding exclusive rights to MMCT Venture, although MGM has pledged to take its battle to sink the tribes’ casino plans to U.S. District Court. There, the casino giant promises it will argue that the legislature violated the Equal Protection and Commerce clauses of the Constitution by declining to consider other non-tribal competitors for the state’s first commercial gaming license. MGM spent more than $1.6 million on lobbying for an open-bidding process for Connecticut’s third casino and to derail the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes’ plan, reported the Courant.
Connecticut’s third casino is intended to buffer the state from potential revenue losses when MGM Springfield opens its doors this fall. The new legislation is also “a jobs bill at its core,” said Sen. Tim Larson, D-East Hartford, in a report. “The Mohegans and Pequots have been excellent partners to our state and are the backbone of our tourism economy.”
Governor Malloy concurred: “I commend and thank both chambers of the General Assembly for keeping Connecticut jobs and workers at the center of this debate. Our state has a longstanding partnership and compact with the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribal nations who employ thousands of Connecticut residents in their casinos. I have been very clear that I will not sign a bill that puts these jobs at risk, and I look forward to reviewing this proposal.”
In the assembly’s mad dash to finalize the casino bill, lawmakers forgot to debate a one-time fee for the exclusive right to operate Connecticut’s commercial casino. Figures ranging from zero to $25 million to $250 million have been batted around. MGM, for instance, paid Massachusetts a $100 million advance for the right to build MGM Springfield. The fee option is coming back into play as Connecticut tries to alleviate its debt in the light of a $2.3 billion shortfall in the next fiscal year starting June 30, reported the Connecticut Mirror. Some lawmakers oppose the fee because the tribes have already paid the state $7 billion (25 percent of slot revenues), since the compacts of 1992 and 1996. Those fees exceeded $400 million in 2006 and is anticipated to reach $267 million this year, reported the Hartford Courant.