Get $10 off your ticket to July 21 Barrel Night with Promo Code CTNOW - A night of fine whiskeys & local spirits in Branford

Bill Allowing Up To 3 More Casinos Advances By Wide Margin

Casino bill easily wins first vote, advances in Connecticut legislature

HARTFORD — A proposal to expand casino gambling in Connecticut advanced Thursday, easily passed by the legislature's public safety committee.

The bill, An Act Concerning Gaming, passed 15-8. The easy passage reflects concerns that a lack of action in Connecticut would leave the state's two casinos without a response to competition building in neighboring states, especially Massachusetts.

"This is simply a logical step to allow the joint compact to move forward with the opportunity to preserve revenue," said Sen. Timothy D. Larson, D-East Hartford, who voted for the plan.

"This is a proven commodity," Larson said. "Let's give them a chance."

If passed by the legislature, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe and the Mohegan Tribe would operate as many as three casinos placed strategically near state highways that lead to competing out-of-state casino developments, like MGM Resort International's $800 million casino scheduled to open in Springfield in 2017 or 2018.

Continuing the status quo, according to one prediction, would result in a sharp dive in spending at the casinos, by as much as $700 million in the next couple of years.

Reservations about the bill expressed by some on the committee focused on the social costs of expanded gambling and the sense that the proposal is only trying to slow the ongoing reduction in casino jobs. One legislator cited the results of a recent Quinnipiac University Poll that found that voters opposed expanded gaming in Connecticut by a ratio of nearly 4-to-1.

Before passing the bill, the committee considered, though ultimately did not pass, an amendment that would have kept the casinos from ever receiving state financial aid.

Rep. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, who offered the amendment, said, "I don't want there to be any questions as to whether they could come back a month from now and ask for a grant."

The change, however, failed by one vote.

Miner was one of a few legislators who voted against the bill.

"I wish this bill were about trying to help the two existing destinations that we have here in Connecticut, because they are destinations," he said.

Rep. J.P. Sredzinski, R-Monroe, also opposed the bill.

"We are not attracting, not going after, people to entertain themselves in a way which Mohegan and Foxwoods have established such a high level as they do right now," Sredzinski said. "We are looking to get people's money before they drive too far."

The bill requires a memorandum of understanding with the state attorney general requiring that the tribes make annual contributions of "a specified amount of money" to the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling, a "specified percentage" of gross operating revenue to the state, and a "specified percentage" of gross operating revenue to the host community.

The location of any of the casinos would be subject to approval of the legislative body of the host municipality and only after a public hearing on the casino proposal.

The state Department of Consumer Protection would adopt regulations governing accounting controls, security, hours of operation, and other matters.

The bill awaits further action in the Senate and will likely be referred to additional legislative committees. Lawmakers are expected to fill in some of the remaining details of the legislation, which is still being negotiated between the state and the two tribes.

In a joint statement, Mashantucket Pequot Chairman Rodney Butler and Mohegan Chairman Kevin Brown thanked the committee for their work on the legislation.

"Although it is early in the process, we are encouraged by today's vote, and the bipartisan support of lawmakers," the two chairmen said. "Working together, we have the opportunity to protect good-paying jobs that allow thousands of people to provide for their families, and the tourism and entertainment industry that has brought economic prosperity to southeastern Connecticut."

An Associated Press report was included in this story.

Copyright © 2018, CT Now