Anti-casino activists get hundreds of signatures on petition for East Windsor referendum

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EAST WINDSOR — Anti-casino activists faced tension from supporters at a meeting in East Windsor where two tribes have proposed a casino.

The Coalition Against Casino Expansion in Connecticut hosted the meeting at East Windsor High School Monday evening to discuss the “social and economic costs” of casinos.

“We’re concerned about the fact that the public has not been informed about the costs only given an idea about the potential benefits and we’d like there to be a balanced argument made,” one organizer Denise Terry said. “We believe then people can make a decision about what they’d like to see happen.”

When casino supporters tried to speak out they were disappointed with the response. East Windsor resident Marie Esousa said she felt disrespected.

"I was cut off," Esousa said. "At the meetings I attended everybody had an opportunity to speak without being shut off and this time it was one sided and that's unfortunate, people are here to learn both sides of what's happening."

The coalition is trying to push for a town vote on the casino, gathering signatures in a petition for a referendum.

“Whether people are for or against the casino really isn’t the main issue, it is the right as a tax payer to have our voices,” East Windsor resident Darlene Tardif said. “Everyone in the state is gonna be impacted one way or another.”

Organizers say they need about 200 signatures to get a referendum in place and so far the petition has more than 300.

Terry said the coalition will stand behind whatever the townspeople vote in.

“If the majority of the town supports that, certainly the people of the town will have to acquiesce to that,” she said.

She argues the casino will bring in increased crime, traffic, addiction to gambling and will take away money from other local businesses.

Former Republican Congressman Robert Steele, author of “The Curse: Big-Time Gambling‘s Seduction of A Small New England Town,” gave a presentation at the event.

“Gambling addiction more than doubles within 10 miles of a casino,” Steele said. “Gambling addiction leads to a host of economic and social problems including debt, bankruptcy, broken families and crime.”

The meeting comes as state lawmakers have scheduled a Thursday hearing on legislation allowing the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes to open their proposed casino.

The towns board of selectmen already signed off on the proposal with the tribes.

Some members of the board were at the meeting including East Windsor Selectman Steve Dearborn.

Dearborn was cut off when trying to speak at the meeting but spoke to FOX61 after saying a referendum would cost the town more than $4,000, and would not be binding.

The East Windsor Board of Selectmen unanimously approved a request for proposal for a lobbyist who will act as the town's voice during negotiations at the Capitol.

When organizers asked Dearborn how much a lobbyist would cost he said the tribes are footing the bill.

“We’re not taking any money out of our pockets in East Windsor to pay for this lobbyist,” he said.

The tribes, which own the Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos, hope the facility would compete with MGM’s planned resort in nearby SpringfieldMassachusetts.

“I don’t want $70 million to go to Massachusetts, this state's in rough shape,” Dearborn said. “If they don’t gamble in East Windsor or Windsor Locks, they’re gonna drive up the street.”

The town’s Board of Selectmen is also hosting a casino forum Thursday.

“We`re acting in what we think is in the best interest in the community,” said East Windsor Selectman Jason Bowsza. “There are going to be those like in any issue that would disagree with that but we`re excited to move forward.”

Before a casino can become reality in Connecticut, the law would have to be changed in the state to allow gaming off tribal land.