Legal Hurdles Stand in Way of Third Connecticut Casino - NBC Connecticut

Legal Hurdles Stand in Way of Third Connecticut Casino

(Published Friday, July 10, 2015)

Several legal hurdles stand in the way of a potential third casino opening in North Central Connecticut.

The legislature approved the first step of a two-step process that could land a casino somewhere along Interstate 91 north of Hartford.

Proposals are being made to officials at Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos from towns willing to host a potentially $300 million facility that would house slots, table games, restaurants and bars, according to Mohegan Sun President Bobby Soper.

Sources tell NBC Connecticut the Enfield Square Mall, the former Showcase Cinemas property in East Windsor and the Bradley Airport off-track betting location in Windsor Locks are three of the locations currently vying for the casino.

All three appear to fit two of the criteria the tribes are seeking in a new location. They’re easily accessible off I-91 and close to the Massachusetts border. The state and tribes are hoping the facility will lessen the loss in revenue expected, while retaining jobs in the state, when MGM Resorts opens a $1 billion resort casino in Springfield, Massachusetts.

"They’re facing competition that they never anticipated that they would face," said Gov. Dannel Malloy. "So I understand the response in the legislature."

Before slots start ringing near the border, there are legal questions the legislature and tribes need to answer.

Attorney General George Jepsen wrote a letter to the legislature in April with concerns about the effect a casino off tribal land could have on the existing compact between the state and the tribes. The compact allows gambling only on tribal land. In return, the tribes give the state 25 percent of all slot revenues. The states have received more than $6.6 billion since Foxwoods opened its doors in 1993.

This casino would be the first in the state off of sovereign tribal land.

A commercial casino has State Sen. John Kissel (R-Enfield) concerned.

"If someone like Steve Wynn or another casino developer finds out the tribes are going off of their tribal lands, then I would expect them to sue the state of Connecticut in federal court under due process equal protection saying, 'Why do these folks get singled for special treatment?'" said Kissel, who calls casino expansion a bad public policy. "It could open the flood gates."

One option seems to be a land swap with the tribes, but trying to sort through the complicated process of making the next location tribal land appears to be off the table.

"I don’t view that as an option right now," said Soper. "We’re going to explore everything but I’d say that’s highly unlikely."

The other issue Jepsen questions in his letter is the effect the legislation could have if any additional tribes achieve federal tribal recognition.

A recent change to federal recognition rules appears to favor state leaders lobbying against the loosening of the way tribes are federally recognized. However, at least one faction of the Schiaghticoke tribe in Kent remains in consideration for recognition.

Soper says the Mashantucket Pequots and Mohegan tribal leaders will not do anything to jeopardize their mutually beneficial duopoly on state casino gambling.

"We have to feel very comfortable that the state and us, as an organization, are not exposed to those types of actions," said Soper.

MGM Grand Springfield is scheduled to open in 2018. There is still no schedule set for when a third Connecticut casino could begin operations.

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