Tribes select East Windsor to host new Connecticut casino

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EAST WINDSOR -- The Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan Tribes announced Monday they selected East Windsor as the site for the proposed casino in the Hartford region.

“From the beginning, we’ve said that we want to site our new facility in a town that’s eager to have us. With the unanimous vote by the Board of Selectman, East Windsor fits that bill, and we’re thrilled to enter into a partnership with them,” said Rodney Butler, Chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation.

“Today’s announcement is a critical step towards our goal of saving Connecticut jobs and revenue,” said Kevin Brown, Chairman of the Mohegan Tribe. “We’re honored to have the community of East Windsor by our side as we move forward with bringing our facility to life.”

On Saturday, the East Windsor Board of Selectman voted on and passed unanimously the development agreement. The agreement states that MMCT will pay the town of East Windsor $3 million before the casino opens, at least 15 months ahead of time, and will continue to pay the town $3 million each year on top of regular tax payments. MMCT expects the total taxes to reach about $5.5 million per year.

The agreement states at least 4 percent of the casino workforce will be made of East Windsor residents, and at least 15 percent of employees will live within a 25-mile radius of the facility. But that wasn't enough for some people who spoke out about the casino at Saturday's meeting.

"They’re only saying they’re gonna hire 68 people from here," resident Denise Terry said. Terry is a member of the Connecticut Coalition Against Casino Gambling expansion and said her concern is a casino will provide more negative than positive impacts.

"I think it will be very bad for this town I think it will result in increased crime, increased decay of infrastructure," Terry said.

The Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes plan to host two job fairs in East Windsor. About 75% of the positions at the new casino will be full-time, MMCT said.

"I think it's going to be competition to the MGM in Springfield," said Donna Wedemeyer of Chicopee, Massachusetts. "I think we would go to the one that lets us win."

"I think Foxwoods and Mohegan are shooting themselves in the foot," said Wedemeyer's husband Jeurgen. "If they're going to try to compete with Springfield, it's not going to effect the Springfield casino at all. I think they're just hurting themselves because they're going to be losing their own business from Connecticut."

"I think if they're going to do one, by the airport would've been perfect because of the people coming in and out," said Caroline Skowronek of Somers, Connecticut. "I think there's more room out there."

The plans have the casino sitting on the old Showcase Cinema building in East Windsor right off of I-91. Windsor Locks was also in the final running for the state's third casino.

"It is more convenient to come over and to gamble than to drive all the way down to Mohegan Sun," said Matthew Whitaker of Avon.

MGM, who is building a casino less than 30 minutes north in Springfield, Massachusetts, released a statement Monday afternoon:

“This so-called ‘process’ – and I used that word quite loosely – has become a bad reality show – but with very real consequences for Connecticut.  Several game shows come to mind – The Dating Game (for those over 50), The Apprentice, The Bachelor – but I’m not sure any of them come close to matching the absurdity that defines the road Connecticut is taking toward its first commercial casino.  Last Thursday, MMCT announced that it would reach an agreement with a town ‘in a matter of days.’  Then on Saturday, East Windsor announces it’s reached a deal with MMCT.  So you quite naturally think, ‘ok, it’s East Windsor.’  But wait –there’s more.

On Sunday word comes from Windsor Locks First Selectman Kervick that his town is going to announce on Tuesday that it has reached an agreement with MMCT. So you think, ‘wait a second.’  Did MMCT forget about East Windsor already?  Did they make promises to both towns?  Are they hoping one town will annex the other town?  It kind of makes you think maybe MMCT was running last night’s Oscars.

And then today MMCT announces it really has picked East Windsor.

This whole process – going all the way back to 2015 – has been ridiculous.  That was the year in which legislation was first introduced giving MMCT the exclusive right to determine where to build Connecticut’s first commercial casino.  The bill was introduced in committee, and then in April, 2015, Attorney General George Jepsen weighed in with a letter casting doubt on the proposed bill for a host of reasons, including the fact that it would potentially jeopardize the existing compact.  So then the bill goes away and you think, ‘ok, that’s that.’  But then the bill reappears as an amendment to another bill on the floor of the state Senate, and it passes with NO PUBLIC COMMENT.  Then MMCT says it will be back before the Legislature in the 2016 session once it’s reached an agreement with a town.  But that never happens.  MMCT puts forward all sorts of excuses, but it never happens.  Then in August, 2016, through the Freedom of Information process, we learn that MMCT is planning on turning Bradley International Airport into a casino. MMCT’S response?  “That proposal is dead.”  But wait, we never even knew it was alive!  Then, just weeks later and out of nowhere, MMCT announces that it’s canceling the first RFP it put out – no reason as to why – and that it will now be putting out a second RFP.  Towns are rumored to be in the mix – Hartford and East Hartford among them – but then some of those towns mysteriously disappear from the mix based on a ‘detailed economic analysis' never revealed to the public.  In the midst of all this there are occasional announcements from MMCT that they are “close” to making an announcement.  Monty Python couldn’t have created anything more absurd.

And now we hear the announcement that MMCT has picked East Windsor, so we wonder if Windsor Locks will make an announcement tomorrow.  Is Windsor Locks the fall back option?

While all the members of the legislature waited for nearly two years to see which town would ‘hit double jeopardy,’ MMCT never responded to the serious warning from Attorney General George Jepsen regarding the fact that even the mere act of ratifying a development between MMCT and a town could place the Pequot Fund in real legal jeopardy.  Nor did MMCT spend any time working with legislators or the Attorney General’s Office to resolve the several constitutional issues associated with giving away a valuable state license in an anti-competitive non bidding fashion. Moreover, MMCT did not spend any time explaining if or how they could get the required amendments to their compact approved by the new administration in Washington D.C.

This is no way to run a process.  No other state has ever allowed a private developer to build a commercial casino by employing a process like this.  And for a host of reasons: it’s not the way to generate the most jobs and revenue for the state, it’s not the way for towns to maximize the compensation they get from a developer, and it doesn’t provide for any real public input.  As Rep. Daniel Rovero said at last week’s public hearing, ‘How much money did Connecticut leave on the table?’

All of that is the bad news; the good news is there’s still time for Connecticut to get this right.  As we have been saying for more than a year, the state should scrap the current process and put one in place that is fair, open, transparent and competitive.  Otherwise, there might be a war between the Windsors.”