Bridgeport Hit the Jackpot Last Week, Here's Why It'll Lose this Week

The Bridgeport delegation in the Connecticut House of Representatives scored a tremendous political victory last week, bolstering the prospects of a casino one day being built in Connecticut's largest city.

It came in the critical waning days of the legislative session.

Even though the "Request for Proposal" process that could start later this year does not explicitly mention Bridgeport, the delegation has pushed for the chance to get a casino in their backyard for years, and the 77-73 vote in the House at least makes it feel like there is momentum on their side.

But, there's not.

The vote in the House will more than likely turn out to be a symbolic gesture. It's significant, but symbolic.

The odds of passage in the Senate are long, to say the least.

Standing in the way of even discussing the issue are what can best be described as immovable objects on the issues of gambling expansion and defenders of the state's compact with the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan Tribes.

Achieving 77 votes in the House was no small task, but in the evenly divided Connecticut Senate, every one of the 36 members' stances on gambling is magnified.

Let's start with Sen. Cathy Osten, (D - Sprague). She has been staunchest defender of the existing compact, and for that matter, the casinos themselves. As employers, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, are the two most important in her Senate district. She will not allow even another casino awarding process to take place if it could, even in the slightest possible way, do harm to the state's relationship with the tribes.

Remember, that MGM has been the strongest lobby behind the open and competitive bid process for a commercial casino. You also have to remember that MGM is opening its Springfield casino later in 2018, which is the entire argument the tribes had for pushing the East Windsor casino in the first place.

Next, there's Sen. Tim Larson, (D - East Hartford). Yes, he lives in East Hartford, but he represents East Windsor, the site of the state's already approved third tribal-run casino, but the first located off reservation land.

Larson has been one of the loudest supporters of the East Windsor project, touting it as the job creator the tribes' have sold it as for years.

Even supporting a RFP process for a commercial casino anywhere else in the state would be like sending a message to his constituents that he was hedging his bets on the East Windsor casino project.

On the Republican side there are Sen. Tony Hwang, (R - Fairfield), and Sen. Paul Formica, (R - East Lyme). They are likely to oppose the RFP legislation in the Senate, but for very different reasons.

First, Formica has been a supporter of the tribes' East Windsor effort, backing the argument that the southeastern casinos will emerge in a better position with traffic being diverted from MGM's Springfield casino. Second, he does not want to jeopardize the hundreds of millions in revenues for the state as a result of the compact with the tribes. He was also present for the demolition ceremony signaling the start of development at the East Windsor site. He wore a hardhat.

With Sen. Hwang, you have a staunch opponent of gambling. In May 2015, when the casino expansion debate started, Hwang said, “The fact is we have not done a thorough analysis of the societal cost of gambling.” Does that sound like someone excited about allowing for what could a be fourth casino in Connecticut?

In a chamber where you need 19 votes to pass anything, the Bridgeport and MGM sympathizers are already down possibly four, making the math incredibly difficult, if not impossible to get the House-passed bill through the upper chamber.

The merits of the Bridgeport casino can be debated, and they have been in Connecticut for years. It's possible that MGM is exactly right, that a Bridgeport casino can capture the New York market and be successful in ways an East Windsor casino can only dream of.

However, with just two days remaining for lawmakers to meet and after hitting the jackpot with Friday's House vote, it looks more like the tribes may have the political upper hand, leading Bridgeport's push to go belly-up.

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