Connecticut tribes and lawmakers are scrambling to put together a proposal that would help the state fight back against the coming casinos in neighboring Massachusetts.
But while both Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun are on board and some legislators are okay with the plan, the state’s residents seem much cooler on the idea of expanding gambling beyond the two casinos that already exist.
“Massachusetts has declared economic war on us and we’re going to fight back,” said State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-Norwalk) upon the introduction of the bill.
Duff was referring to the two casinos and slots parlor that have already been approved by Massachusetts regulators, with the prospect of a third casino being approved in that state this year.
In particular, many in Connecticut are worried that the MGM Springfield, which could open in 2017, could attract significant traffic from Connecticut that otherwise would have gone to the state’s two tribal casinos.
Revenue from CT Casinos Falling Quickly
That would be a big blow for not only the tribes, but also for the state, which collects 25 percent of all slot machine revenue from both Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun. That revenue has been declining precipitously in recent years: in 2007, the state’s take peaked at over $430 million, while in 2014, it fell to under $280 million. That was actually less than the state lottery, which officially overtook the casinos in 2013.
Still, even the reduced income is much more than a drop in the bucket, and many Connecticut lawmakers would like to protect or grow that figure rather than watch money flow north to Massachusetts.
“This is still a significant revenue source for our state and our cities,” said State Senate President Martin Looney (D-New Haven). “Just as we would work hard to protect any other industry in our state, it is important for us to protect this industry.”
I-91 Would Be Primary Target
The proposal that has been introduced would allow for up to three casinos in areas near the three major highway corridors that run through Connecticut. Of most interest to the tribes right now is the I-91 area north of Hartford, where a smaller casino might convince local gamblers to stay in the state rather than travel to the MGM Springfield once it opens.
However, casino projects along I-84 and I-95 could also be considered, with areas near Danbury and Bridgeport being potential locations for future casinos.
The move would see the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes jointly run any new casinos that were built. A third tribal group, the Schaghticoke Indian Tribe, was not included in the proposal, but say they may push to build a gambling venue on their small reservation near the Appalachian Trail. The Schaghticoke are not yet a federally recognized tribe, which has hampered their efforts to build a casino on their land.
As for the two major tribal gaming powers in the state, their plans may be scuttled by public opinion. Polling released earlier this week by Quinnipiac University found that just 20 percent of Connecticut voters are in favor of adding more gambling locations to the state. Still, poll director Douglas Schwartz said that those numbers could change if the issue becomes a hot topic in the state.
“It’s where the voters stand right now, but it could change,” Schwartz said. “We will see as the proponents of casino expansion make their case. We will see if they are able to persuade voters to their side.”