It seems we have come full circle concerning MGM and their opposition to Connecticut’s casino expansion.
It was March of 2015 when the two tribes in CT asked for permission to build a casino off I-91 near the Massachusetts line to intercept patrons on their way to MGM Springfield, hoping it would be done and open by 2017. MGM Springfield, a $950 million casino is a major threat to force more declining revenue of Connecticut’s gambling industry and impact the local economy by reducing employment opportunities.
Well it’s 2017, and CT is finally seeing it’s expansion come to life. But, it will surely fizzle if MGM International has anything to do about it.
The two tribes that were enemies and then competitors for centuries even when they were allowed to build two of the largest casinos in country, offering the only Las Vegas style resort gaming in the Northeast outside of Atlantic City, are now in it for the long-haul together.
A third casino in CT gets ready to move forward. MMCT, the Mohegan Sun and Mashantucket Pequots tribes’ combined venture is soon to get the Governor’s backing, completing the state’s blessing for a new casino in East Windsor.
In two years of fighting, litigation, television commercials, community propaganda and interesting surveys to support their findings, MGM has thrown everything they could at the casino wall, hoping for anything to stick and sway the people of CT and their legislators.
The first attempt by MGM was a lawsuit challenging the exclusive right for the two tribes to jointly operate and build a competing casino. MGM insisted they could make money in CT (even though they pulled out of joint venture with Foxwoods) and that the casino bill violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. A federal judge in January of 2016 dismissed the company’s lawsuit to block the state of Connecticut’s 2015 tribal gaming act.
At the same time, MGM backed the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation, in Kent, CT – officially recognized by the state but not the federal government – to sue the state of Connecticut’s bill, claiming they had a right to a casino. But land claims, the lack of federal recognition and then the resurrection of the law suit all dismissed again recently seem enough to keep the Schaghticoke demands futile.
MGM then sought help from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, stating that a casino off tribal land would break the original agreement from 1993, saying that approving this bill would sever the pact for 25% of the slot revenue to the state. MMCT assured legislators that the proposed construction of a third casino would not jeopardize any gambling agreements reached between the state and the two tribes in 2016 & recently when the BIA agreed.
Officials from the two tribes provided legislators in 2016 with copies from a letter sent by the current Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs at the country’s Department of Interior stating that the existing gambling compact, under the terms of which Connecticut is provided with 25% of net revenue from slot machines in return for securing the two tribes with the exclusive rights to operate gambling venues within the state’s borders, would not be affected by the opening of a third casino.”
Two bills were eventually issued to the CT legislature earlier this year – one for the MMCT joint venture on the CT/MA border, and one outlining an equal bidding process for a casino in the southwest part of the state (where MGM could possily bid and build a casino). MGM continued to televise ads in CT under the moniker of MGMConecticut.org, trying to persuade CT’s residents of the need for equal bidding for a casino license, saying 71% of the state’s surveyed residents were in favor of an open bidding process. All the local TV stations, all hours of the day were not enough to change the representatives vote. Where is that 71% (of whatever sample size) when MGM needs them?
MGM has waged an all out war to try to save its interests across the border. Whether or not is is to save MGM’s chances for a casino in CT, or just continuous stalling tactics while preparing for MGM Springfield to open, MGM has had a five-prong attack:
- a legal fight in federal court,
- lobbying at the Connecticut State Capitol,
- bringing the fight to Congress
- instigating the Schaghticoke Tribe in Kent, CT to legally pursue it’s right to the casino pie – have proved fruitless in trying to block the construction of a third tribal casino thus far
- influence the people of CT to consider an open bidding process
- The federal court and the BIA has already thrown out MGM’s previous lawsuit
- Lobbying at the state capital didn’t succeed in bringing about the open bidding process
- The CT Senate, House, and soon Governor Malloy, approve the process for the MMCT casino in East Windsor.
I say MGM’s main purpose in all of this was to stall – because the urban casino they are building is a questionable success. It will be great for MGM, but will it be good for Springfield? Remember, MGM and CEO Jim Murren himself has said they are in the hotel and entertainment business, not the casino business. How does Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Gaming Commission feel about their revenue being secondary in MGM’s plan?
MGM Springfield is in a much smaller city, and it will go up MMCT’s Mohegan Sun / Foxwoods casino in East Hartford and will continue to feel pressure from Plainridge Park Casino, the only open casino in Massachusetts. New York projects near western Mass. and Wynn’s Boston Harbor Casino/Resort will definitely tug at Springfield’s bottom line. MGM said in 2016 that they didn’t believe in a ceiling on gamblers discretionary funds and were not concerned with the possible saturation of casinos – do they still believe that?
Now, MGM is back to square one, leaning on the judicial branch to stop MMCT in East Windsor. I think I can still hear someone speaking in the wind from Springfield, “just stall, I don’t care how, just stall….”
And that, my friends is a complete circle.