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October 22, 2018

Gaming execs say third CT casino still viable

Rendering | Tecton Architects A rendering of the proposed East Windsor casino.
Rodney Butler, Chairman, Mashantucket Pequot tribe and Interim CEO, Foxwoods
Ray Pineault, President, Mohegan Sun

Obituaries for Connecticut's third casino in East Windsor are in error, according to Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot tribe and interim CEO of Foxwoods.

In an interview at the recent Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas, Butler said the adverse ruling by a federal judge in the tribe's suit against the federal Department of the Interior simply closes one avenue to getting the casino's doors open.

The tribe had sued seeking to force the Interior Department to act on its request to sanction the arrangement by which Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun would collaborate in opening a casino in East Windsor. The third casino is conceived as a way to counteract the opening of MGM Springfield and keep more gaming dollars in Connecticut.

The state Attorney General's Office sought reassurance that nothing in the new deal would jeopardize the existing compact under which 25 percent of slot revenues flow into the state's coffers. The East Windsor casino would be built on land that is not on either tribes' reservation.

To reassure the state, the Mashantucket Pequot tribe, owner of Foxwoods, requested the Department of the Interior to approve the third casino but the request went unanswered for months.

U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras in Washington, D.C., declined to force federal action, but the tribes aren't giving up. In fact, the Mashantucket tribe and state of Connecticut are asking a federal court to revive their lawsuit, charging that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke refused to sign off on the deal due to political pressure.

Meantime, Butler said the tribes' position is that no federal approval is necessary for the third casino and that the gaming compact with the state applies. Under the compact, the tribal casinos sent about $270 million to the state last year. That figure has been declining since a high of $430 million more than a decade ago. And the opening of MGM Springfield in September and Wynn Resort near Boston in 2019 threaten further erosion.

Early reports suggest the negative impact of MGM Springfield is less than predicted, but it remains a concern, Butler said. And the East Windsor casino is part of the strategy to hold gaming dollars within Connecticut.

MGM Springfield recorded almost $27 million in gaming revenue in its first month, generating more than $6.7 million in taxes for the Bay State.

Meantime, Connecticut's tribal casino operators saw their slot revenues decline for a third consecutive month in September.

Both tribes remain fully committed to East Windsor, said Butler and Ray Pineault, president of Mohegan Sun.

Over the past few months, the tribes have been meeting with candidates to “educate” them on the issues, according to both Butler and Pineault.

Butler said he expects quick action after the new governor, legislature and attorney general take office on the third casino and on sports betting. Both are key elements in maintaining the competitive position of Connecticut's gaming industry, he explained.

Protecting the industry is a win-win for the state and the tribes, he added.

The third casino is being built through MMCT Venture, a joint company of the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes. Demolition of the former Showcase Cinema building has been completed. The site, about 12 miles south of MGM Springfield near Exit 45 off Interstate 91, is ready for construction.

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