Tribal casino bill faces challenges despite Senate passage - WFSB 3 Connecticut

Tribal casino bill faces challenges despite Senate passage

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(WFSB photo) (WFSB photo)

While the Connecticut state Senate has passed legislation allowing a new satellite casino to be built by two Native American tribes in East Windsor, it's questionable whether the bill can clear the House of Representatives.

Rep. Joe Verrengia, the Democratic House chairman of the legislature's Public Safety Committee, has his doubts.

The West Hartford lawmaker contends the legislation exposes the state to years of litigation and potentially puts Connecticut's current casino revenue-sharing arrangement with the tribes at risk, despite assurances to the contrary.

Verrengia says the politics surrounding the casino issue in the House is "all over the place." Some lawmakers want to create a competitive process for a state casino license while others oppose expanded gambling in general.

State Sen. Tim Larson (D-East Hartford) said despite all the controversy, another casino will save jobs.

"What you saw in the senate by a two to one margin is people saying we are sick and tired of people taking our business and taking it out of state,” Larson said. “We put our foot down with a great business agreement with the tribes."

The Mashantuckets and the Mohegans want to build a casino to stop jobs from going to Massachusetts where MGM is building a casino in neighboring Springfield.

Connecticut lawmakers are letting a third casino be built off the tribal land and MGM feels they should be able to build one too. MGM said they're suing the state. Another tribe Schaghticokes said they'll sue the state too if they're shut out of the bidding process.

There is still some concern about what effect a third casino would have on the current agreement with the tribes, who give millions to the state.

"Why are we putting the state of Connecticut into that liability,” state Sen. Tony Hwang (R-Fairfield) said.  

Hwang said he is very much against more casinos and added Connecticut could face years of costly litigation. But, a bigger issue is creating more problem gamblers.

"Where have you seen the plight of addicts in this debate? People's whose lives have been devastated,” Hwang said. “Gambling is the single most cause of suicides in our society."

Further complicating this could be the governor, who has not been pushing for another casino, but now said he's inclined to support the tribal bill over an open bidding process.

The Senate passed the tribal casino bill 24-12 Wednesday morning. The session ends in two weeks. 

Copyright 2016 WFSB (Meredith Corporation). The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.