HARTFORD, Conn. — The Connecticut state Senate voted Wednesday on a bill that could eventually pave the way for the state's two federally recognized Indian tribes to open a new casino to counter the threat posed by MGM Springfield – the $800 million project poised to make Springfield a contender in the contest to become New England's gaming capital.
The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration, although the level of support in that chamber remains unclear, the Associated Press reported Thursday.
In a 20-16 vote, the Senate narrowly passed the revised bill, which scaled back the number of possible new Connecticut casinos from three to one. The bill would allow towns to submit proposals for a casino that would be jointly operated by the tribes, according to the Hartford Courant.
House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said the House of Representatives has yet to take any preliminary votes on the matter, but House Democrats are expected to hold a closed-door meeting next week to discuss the casino bill.
The original bill had proposed up to three satellite casinos to preserve Connecticut's status as New England's gambling mecca, fending off competition from MGM's project just north of the Connecticut border.
Revenue lost to MGM Springfield is projected to translate into job losses at Connecticut's two casinos – Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun – although proponents believe that adding a new slot parlor casino to the state's landscape could help retain Connecticut jobs and stanch the flow of gamblers to Massachusetts.
Sharkey was unenthusiastic about the original casino bill but is receptive to its retooled version, the AP reports. "I think this is just a very preliminary step designed to figure out how the tribes might consider expanding if, in fact, other things fall into place," he said.
The most likely site for a new Connecticut casino is somewhere in Hartford County near the Massachusetts border, according to backers of expanded gaming opportunities in the Nutmeg State. But any plans that emerge would need tribal and community agreements and approval by the Legislature, including amending state law to allow gambling at sites not located on Connecticut's two Indian reservations.
MGM Springfield's 2014 digital flyover MGM Resorts International's promotional video looking at the proposal's conceptual art in an animated, 3D rendering. The clip was released in Jan. 2014. (Video courtesy of MGM Springfield)
Some local Connecticut leaders have expressed interest in establishing a new slot parlor casino in Windsor Locks, East Windsor or East Hartford, though concrete plans have yet to materialize.
Ted Taylor, president of Sportech Venues – the British-based company that operates the 10,000-square-foot Bobby V's Restaurant & Sports Bar and Off Track Betting facility at the Bradley Teletheater – supports the idea of expanding the existing multimillion-dollar facility near the airport in Windsor Locks to include a slot parlor to compete with MGM.
"We're still discussing the various different options that may be appropriate," he told MassLive / The Republican last week. Taylor said the Windsor Locks venue – home to the region's largest sports bar, with dozens of big-screen TVs, a golf simulator and the OTB facility – would be an ideal spot for slot machines. His desire, he said, is to protect the interests of Sportech and its Connecticut workers.
Windsor Locks First Selectman Steven N. Wawruck Jr. and state Rep. Peggy Sayers, a Windsor Locks Democrat who was born in Springfield, are among the supporters of bringing a slot parlor to Windsor Locks. They say the Bradley Airport corridor is the logical location to expand Connecticut's gaming industry, keeping the state viable in the increasingly crowded Northeast casino market.
"To me, it's a win-win situation here in Windsor Locks," Wawruck told MassLive / The Republican in an interview last week. The addition of a slots parlor at Bobby V's would be an "extension of what's already there," he said. "Gambling is in place; let's just expand it to the slots."
Sayers believes expanding the existing Bobby V's footprint, horizontally and vertically, "would create something unique for Connecticut." The sports bar and neighboring OTB betting parlor at the Bradley Teletheater was one of the strongest local developments in recent years, she said.
Meanwhile, others are questioning the rush to expand gaming opportunities in Connecticut while the state's cut of the action continues to crumble.
Tribal payments to the state, a requirement of a revenue-sharing deal, have continued to decline since peaking at $430 million in fiscal 2007, the Courant reports. That total is projected to drop to $189 million in fiscal 2018 due to MGM Springfield, slated to open in 2017, and competition from New York state slot parlors.