February 1, 2019

Bridgeport delegation pitches open bidding for new casino

Rendering | Contributed
Rendering | Contributed
A rendering of MGM's proposed Bridgeport casino.

State lawmakers from Bridgeport are pushing a bipartisan bill that would establish a gaming commission to oversee the bidding process for a third casino in the state.

Fifteen members of the House and Senate introduced the legislation on Thursday aimed at creating a Connecticut Gaming Commission and a competitive bidding process for a resort-casino license.

The effort surfaces as MGM Resorts International, which recently opened a casino in Springfield, Mass., is actively lobbying to build a proposed $675 million gaming and entertainment venue near Bridgeport Harbor.

A new gaming commission, according to Bridgeport State Rep. Steven J. Stafstrom Jr. (D-129), would gather intel on proposals via reviews by the state Department of Consumer Protection and the Department of Economic & Community Development, in addition to public comments.

"It is important for people to recognize we want to ensure Connecticut maximizes the potential of a new casino in the state," said Stafstrom, who introduced a similar bill in the House in 2018.

Last year's proposal to launch a casino-bidding process was approved by the Public Safety and Security Committee, which has oversight over gambling legislation, and was narrowly greenlit by the House. The Senate did not vote on the bill.

Stafstrom is bullish about this year's proposal, which he said is being proposed far earlier in the legislative session compared to last year.

"I thought we had good success last year getting this through the committee and then the House," he said. "With the new makeup of the House and Senate we are confident."

Meantime, tribal leaders of Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort Casino are working to pass legislation that would allow them to proceed with a proposed $300 million casino in East Windsor, rebranded Monday as Tribal Winds Casino. The project is aimed at mitigating the impact of MGM Springfield.

Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribal nation leaders said the East Windsor casino project is "shovel-ready" during a Tuesday hearing of the Public Safety and Security Committee.

The tribes in 2017 received state approval to build the off-reservation casino in East Windsor, in addition to receiving town approval, but the project remains in limbo until the U.S. Department of Interior reverses course and endorses revising the state's gaming compacts with the casinos.

Another path for the tribes would come if the General Assembly approves a recently proposed bill to bypass the Interior Department's role in approving changes to tribal compacts, which are needed to move the project ahead.

As of Tuesday, Foxwoods Interim CEO Rodney Butler said the tribes, which made room for the East Windsor casino by demolishing a vacant movie theater in May 2018, have sunk about $15 million into the project. It would take another 18 to 24 months to build the facility, officials said.

Neighboring Massachusetts has a gaming commission of their own, which serves as a regulator to MGM Springfield and Plainridge Park Casino.

Connecticut's proposed gaming commission would serve a much different purpose, Stafstrom said.

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