HARTFORD, Conn. - Connecticut's two Indian casinos together contribute more than $422 million annually to the state coffers - a bigger share of state revenue than corporate income tax.
That was only one of the astonishing facts to come out of a new report by the Connecticut Economic Resource Center, documenting that Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun have played a crucial role in creating jobs and contributing to the state economy over the past 15 years.
The study, called the ''Impact of Native American Gaming on Connecticut's Economy,'' provided the backdrop to the first Native American Economic Impact Summit hosted by the Eastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce June 14 at the Connecticut Convention Center near the banks of the Connecticut River, Connecticut being an Algonquian word meaning ''long river place.''
CERC is a nonprofit corporation that provides research, marketing and economic development services to local, regional, state and utility entities and policymakers.
Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun opened in eastern Connecticut in 1992 and 1996, respectively, at a time when the state's defense industry was in decline.
''Absent the casinos, eastern Connecticut would have fallen on economic hard times,'' Jeff Blodgett, CERC's vice president of research, told the gathering of politicians, business people and tribal leaders at the summit.
But what is true of eastern Connecticut is also true of the entire state. Even though the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation's Foxwoods and the Mohegan Tribe's Mohegan Sun are tucked away in the southeastern corner, they are economic powerhouses that have been driving the state's economy ever since they opened, the report said.
''Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun are major employers in Connecticut,'' Tony Sheridan, president of the Eastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce, said. ''The casinos' role in and contributions to the economy are significant - including wages paid, purchases from suppliers and vendors, community support and contributions, and annual payments to the state from slot revenues. Needles to say, this industry is of great importance to eastern Connecticut as well as to the entire state.''
With 20,200 employees and an annual payroll of $838 million, the casinos are among the largest employers in the state. According to Blodgett, 12 - 13 percent of the state's employment growth over the past 15 years is due to the two casinos.
''The growth has been nothing short of phenomena. Collectively they are a powerful economic force. And this economic activity spills into virtually every other aspect of our community,'' Blodgett said.
The destinations attracted more than 27.4 million visitors in 2006, and brought in an estimated $234 million in out-of-state gaming funds to contribute to state revenues.
The casinos spent $696 million on purchases from other Connecticut companies.
Combined, the two casinos have contributed $4.2 billion to the state - $2.5 billion from Foxwoods since 1992, and $1.7 billion from Mohegan Sun since 1996.
Although the casinos face potential competition from slot machines in Rhode Island and likely gaming resorts in Massachusetts, the tribes are still in the early stages of what could be explosive economic development, Mashantucket Pequot Chairman Michael Thomas told The Associated Press in an interview after the summit.
''Anyone who thinks we're nearly done really doesn't understand the opportunities in front of the tribe,'' Thomas said.
Thomas urged local officials to focus on the mutual benefits that casino gaming has brought the state rather than on disagreements. Even state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who has battled the Mashantuckets and quashed the ability of the Eastern Pequots and Schaghticoke tribes to open casinos by vigorously opposing their federal recognition, said that state leaders and citizens have ''more in common than differences'' with the tribes
The summit also shed light on some of the problems generated by the casinos, including a shortage of affordable housing, an increased demand on emergency services and an increase in the number of problem gamblers. The two casinos fund the bulk of the Connecticut Council on Problem Gaming's budget, and the state Legislature has refused for years to support a comprehensive impact study on the casinos.
Both Thomas and state officials suggested that the state should use some of the gaming money it receives for affordable housing and treatment for problem gamblers.