Fight Over Third Connecticut Casino Grows

A pair of well-funded and influential casino power brokers have found themselves in a tussle over how a third casino in Connecticut may come to fruition, how it would be run and who would run it.

MGM, the group opening a casino in 2018 in Springfield, Massachusetts, has taken several vocal steps to stop the state from only allowing the Mashantuckett Pequot and Mohegan tribes from jointly operating a third casino.

MGM has sued the state in federal court. While, that case was recently thrown out, the appeal for the case will be heard in September. MGM has also partnered with the Schaghticoke Tribe in its effort to attain federal recognition.

MGM also pressed the Connecticut Airport Authority on its plans for a future casino. The chairman of the authority told NBC Connecticut in a statement that a casino won't be included in planned upgrades next year but could be included later.

Finally, last month during US Senate debate on a defense spending measure, Nevada's senators attempted to amend the bill to prohibit any tribe from operating a casino off of tribal lands in states with compacts, a clear swipe to Connecticut. The measure was defeated but the message was clear.

MGM wouldn't say whether it was behind the amendment.

In a statement, Alan Feldman, Executive Vice President of MGM Resorts International, said, The two tribes are attempting to do what hasn't been done before anywhere in this country - extend their exclusivity beyond tribal land to anyplace in the state. We merely want a reasonable opportunity to compete in a process that will demonstrate that the best deal for Connecticut - in economic benefits, jobs and tax revenue - is in Southwestern Connecticut, as the data clearly indicates.”

The company authored a study that concluded a casino closer to New York City in Fairfield County made the most sense.

"I don’t think we’ve seen any evidence of a casino operator responding this aggressively to a potential competitor anywhere in the country, certainly nowhere that I’ve seen up to this point," said Clyde Barrow, who authored a study that supported the notion that a third casino could protect revenues and jobs in Connecticut from Massachusetts, if a third casino were to be built. The study was paid for by the existing federally recognized tribes.

One voice against a third casino for fear of the legal repercussions is Enfield Democratic Rep. David Alexander. He echoes concerns of Connecticut's Attorney General who warned such an agreement could violate the state's revenue agreement with the tribes.

“We have an ironclad compact where the state gleans a lot of revenue from the two tribes down in Southeastern Connecticut. If another casino comes in with another vendor, that could violate that according to what the attorney general is saying,” Alexander said. 

Barrow said he expects the legal battle to continue because MGM has so much at stake, expecting to rake in hundreds of millions from its new venture in Springfield.

“It points to the fact that MGM is really depending on Connecticut customers in order for its facility to be viable,” Barrow said.  

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