HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was still deciding whether to sign legislation approved early Friday that would create a multi-step process for possibly opening a new tribal casino along the Connecticut border that proponents contend will help combat out-of-state gambling competition.
Malloy was in Oklahoma City for a speech on Friday, and his spokesman said the governor was still reviewing the legislation.
In a statement issued after the 88-55 vote in the House of Representatives, the chairmen of the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes said they hope Malloy will sign the bill into law. It would “begin a process” by the two tribes to “invest millions to identify the best site for a satellite gaming facility in north central Connecticut, and to work with state and federal officials to ensure the state and our two tribal governments are legally protected.”
The bill is a retooled version of a proposal that would have allowed the tribes to open up to three casinos to help combat out-of-state competition. But Attorney General George Jepsen warned the legislation could prompt legal challenges, risk the revenue sharing agreement between the tribes and the state and make it easier for other tribes that might receive federal recognition to open a casino.
Malloy had echoed some of those same concerns.
Under the new bill, the tribes would issue a request for proposals to municipalities interested in hosting one satellite casino, most likely along I-91 to compete with the planned MGM Resorts casino planned in nearby Springfield, Massachusetts. Any development agreement reached between the tribes and the community, following various local approvals, would have to be reviewed by the attorney general, governor’s office and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Ultimately, a new casino could not operate until the General Assembly amends state law to allow casino gambling. The tribe’s existing facilities, Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort Casinos, are located on sovereign tribal land.
“What I believe is that the legislature can’t name a winner, that there has to be a process,” Malloy said earlier this month.
Democratic Rep. Stephen Dargan, co-chairman of the General Assembly’s Public Safety Committee, said the bill sends a message to Massachusetts that Connecticut is serious about protecting jobs.
A consultant hired by the tribes has warned that about 6,000 direct casino jobs and 3,000 indirect jobs in the southeastern Connecticut region and elsewhere could be lost due to competition from MGM. Numerous casino employees have visited the state Capitol in recent weeks, trying to urge lawmakers to pass the bill.
But Rep. Andre Bumgardner, R-New London, questioned whether a satellite casino will protect those jobs, saying the workers are being misled. He said the legislation is ultimately bad for southeastern Connecticut, which has seen a steady decline in casino jobs in recent years.
“Those jobs are not going to come back. They never will come back,” he said.
Rep. Mike France, R-Ledyard, whose district includes both casinos, said he has experienced nearly unanimous support from constituents for the bill, especially employees who worked their way up the ladder at the two casinos. He said those workers believe the casinos have been good employers.
Besides putting those and the indirect jobs in the region at risk, France pointed to the consultant’s study that predicted the tribes and state would experience a total, potential $700 million revenue loss due to MGM.
“I encourage my colleagues to seriously consider the jobs and the revenue to the state and the benefit that it brings as goods stewards to our state over the past several years,” France said.
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