Published 4:00 pm, Friday, April 10, 2015It's getting hard to keep up with all the attempts to expand casino-type gambling in Connecticut. Last year, public opposition stopped legislative leaders from putting the gambling game keno in restaurants, bars and convenience stores, and earlier this year a lack of support derailed a proposal by a legislative task force to place video slots in OTB facilities.
Now, the Democratic legislative leadership wants to pass a bill that would allow the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes, owners of Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, respectively, to jointly build three commercial -- not tribal -- satellite casinos in order to fight out-of-state competition.
The tribes want to open the first "convenience" casino on I-91 between Hartford and the Massachusetts border in an effort to keep Connecticut residents from going to the new $800 million MGM casino being built in Springfield.
They reportedly hope to open the other two casinos along I-95 and I-84 in Fairfield County to defend against New York's casinos. The Hartford-area casino would be heavily oriented to slot machines, with up to 2,000 slots and 50-75 table games, no entertainment, and limited food and beverages. There are about 5,000 slots and 300 table games at Foxwoods.
The bill's supporters argue the new casinos would help both the tribes and the state by slowing the decline in gambling revenue and helping to preserve casinos jobs. But the bill is a bad one for Connecticut for five reasons:
1. The primary economic benefit of Connecticut's casinos has come from their success in drawing over half their combined customers and billions of dollars from other states. These out-of-state customers are the ones who are disappearing because they have new casinos in their own backyard. Building new scaled-down casinos in Connecticut will do nothing to bring them back.
2. While opening convenience casinos would encourage current Connecticut gamblers to stay in state, it would also encourage them to gamble more and attract thousands of other Connecticut residents to gamble, with a corresponding increase in gambling addiction, debt, bankruptcies, broken families and crime.
3. There is a growing body of research on the negative effects of casino gambling's spread. According to a recent report by the nonpartisan Institute for American Values, the new local and regional casinos drain wealth from communities, prey on low-income people, weaken nearby businesses, hurt property values and reduce civic participation, family stability and other forms of social capital that are at the heart of a successful society.
Here in Connecticut, a 2014 study from Western Connecticut State University shows that despite a sharp drop in crime in the state as a whole, the number of violent crimes, including murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault, increased in nearby towns after Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun opened.
While the number of thefts declined modestly, the value of property stolen skyrocketed by nearly 40 percent. Interviews with police and judicial officials also indicated increases in prostitution and illicit drug use.
4. In disregard for Connecticut voters, the bill makes no provision for residents of proposed host towns to vote on whether they want a casino in their community, but simply gives the municipality's legislative body the power to make this far-reaching decision.
5. Just over a decade ago, Connecticut showed its opposition to more casinos by repealing the charity gaming law that opened the door to our two current Indian casinos, and then mounted a successful effort to keep its other tribes from gaining federal recognition and the right to open casinos.
Now our governor and congressional delegation are in a battle to stop the federal government from changing regulations that would again create the possibility of more Indian casinos -- and land claims -- in Connecticut. Passage of the new casino bill would make a mockery of the state's argument that it opposes more casinos and would destroy its ability to win that fight.
More casinos are not an answer to Connecticut's economic problems. Instead of encouraging our citizens to gamble away their savings, we need to attract productive, living-wage jobs, promote stable revenue streams and end the runaway spending that's put the state so deeply in debt.
Robert Steele, of Essex, was a U.S. representative from eastern Connecticut and is author of "The Curse: Big-Time Gambling's Seduction of a Small New England Town." State Sen. Tony Hwang, R-28, of Fairfield, is an assistant Senate minority leader, representing the towns of Easton, Fairfield, Newtown, Weston and Westport.
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