State lawmakers approved the final legislation needed to pave the way for a third casino in Connecticut.
Senate Bill 957 authorizes the construction of a world-class, 200,000 square foot gaming and entertainment facility in East Windsor with 2,000 slot machines and 50 to 150 table games.
“People may not like it because they are all around the place but I think that it’s a chance," said Emily Quian, East Windsor.
The vote came in less than 24 hours before the legislative session was to adjourn.
Under the legislation, the facility would pay a 25 percent tax on its slot machines and a 25 percent tax on its table games, according to The Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes.
The new jointly-owned $300 million casino on a former Showcase Cinemas property off of Interstate 91 could generate more than 1,700 jobs and $8.5 million in revenue each year, the tribes said.
“It’s going to bring some traffic but I think it will be good for the state and the town, bringing the money and the taxes and the jobs," said Dan Therian of East Windsor.
Tribal leaders praised the vote on Tuesday.
“There are families across the state breathing a sigh of relief tonight thanks to leaders in both chambers and from both parties,” Mohegan Tribal Council Chairman Kevin Brown said in a written statement. “With this vote, we have all demonstrated a commitment to protecting the state of Connecticut and the good jobs of its residents.”
“Tonight the Connecticut General Assembly passed one of the most significant jobs initiatives of the legislative session,” Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council Chairman Rodney Butler said. “With more than 9,000 jobs at risk, legislators banded together to save an important sector of Connecticut’s economy.”
State leaders also praise the decision with Gov. Dannel Malloy saying "I commend and thank both chambers of the General Assembly for keeping Connecticut jobs and workers at the center of this debate."
Malloy went on to say, "Our state has a longstanding partnership and compact with the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribal nations who employ thousands of Connecticut residents in their casinos. I have been very clear that I will not sign a bill that puts these jobs at risk, and I look forward to reviewing this proposal.”
Supporters said it is necessary to help the state protect revenue and jobs before the new $950 million MGM casino opens in Sept. 2018 in Springfield, MA. That casino is expected to garner 3,000 jobs.
“They got them all over so I don’t know if another one will hurt because they got the other one up in Springfield," said Ed Kasheta of South Windsor.
Democratic State Rep. Emmett Riley, of Norwich, said the bill would be good for the state’s economy, while Republican State Rep. Christopher Davis said he supports the bill, but wishes East Windsor voters were allowed to hold a referendum on the topic.
“It's about preserving jobs and to conserve jobs and if this casino does come to fruition those jobs can be shifted to East Windsor, and that's the main thing that I'm concerned with as far as preserving jobs,” Riley said.
“I'm still pushing for a referendum to take place. Ultimately, I think the referendum would win, I'm not looking to slow down the process, I'm not looking to stall the bill, I'm just taking a principled position that the people of East Windsor should have their voices heard,” Davis said.
Davis said he plans to try to add an amendment to require a referendum but he’s not optimistic it will pass. He does still plan to support the bill as it is currently written if necessary.
"I see that there's a nice space that they have, it's a beautiful spot and would bring in a lot of people and more jobs," said James Smith.
MGM released a statement on the passage early Wednesday morning.
"It appears that the Legislature is intent on approving a no-bid casino in East Windsor," said Uri Clinton, senior vice president and legal counsel, MGM Resorts International. "As such the State of Connecticut missed an enormous opportunity to put in place an open, transparent, and competitive casino process which could have resulted in as much as $1 billion in economic development, the creation of thousands of jobs, and a licensing fee paid to the state of up to $100 million. What Connecticut got instead was far less than that."
Clinton said MGM would continue to advocate in the courts as it seeks to "protect the constitutional rights of any company hoping to do business in Connecticut."
"And that, ultimately, is what our goal has always been: we’d like the chance to compete to do business in Connecticut," he said.
The Schaghticoke Tribal Nation said it was profoundly disappointed with the passage. It vowed to sue over what it called a monopoly by the Mashantucket Pequots and the Mohegan tribes.
"At a time of severe economic hardship, lawmakers should have created an open and competitive process that gave citizens the best possible deal," the tribe said. "Instead they have not only tied Connecticut to an unreliable funding source that has been sinking like a stone in recent years, but also – according to the Attorney General’s March 2017 opinion – placed the state’s gaming compact in jeopardy."
Schaghticoke Chief Richard Velky argued the every potential investor and developer should have been allowed to participate in the process.
"STN has no alternative but to fight it in the courts where hopefully we will finally receive justice," Velky said.
Sen. Tony Hwang agreed.
“We need to create a predictable pattern how we do things," Hwang said. "We need to create a sustainable environment in which people can thrive and succeed, and we need to be transparent and open because we are the government of the people.”
Lawmakers are also considering a bill that would expand off-track betting. They've also opened the door for mixed martial arts, which could generate money for Hartford and Bridgeport.
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