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Could southeastern Connecticut have the country’s loosest slots?

January 27, 2019 GMT

Welcome to Round 1,001 of Connecticut’s endless game of charting its public policy toward gambling.

One big difference, as the legislature opens yet another session of debate over casinos, sports betting and the longtime monopoly on Connecticut gambling business held by the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes, is a new governor.

Gov. Ned Lamont, who didn’t really show his hand on gambling strategy during last year’s gubernatorial race, already has signaled an interest in strengthening or even increasing tribal involvement in the state’s gaming strategy.

As MGM again takes up its challenge for the state to break its monopoly deal with the tribes on casino gambling and entertain competitive bids for a Bridgeport casino, Lamont has invited the tribes to consider a project for Bridgeport, casino included, or not.

Naturally, the tribes said they would give Bridgeport a look-see. How could they tell the new governor no?

The layman in me, who knows little about the studies of gaming demographics that MGM and the tribes are no doubt studying, has what may well indeed be naive advice for the tribes: Call MGM’s bluff, and let them convince the state to let them bid for a Bridgeport casino.

It seems to me, with their lucrative monopoly on Northeast gambling long gone, with new gambling halls online in New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and more and bigger ones in the pipeline, it might be best for the tribes to retrench and hunker down here.

After all, the tribes have heavily invested in elaborate resort destinations in eastern Connecticut. They’ve proven to be more resilient than anyone forecast against the competition from the new MGM casino in Springfield, Mass.

I wonder if the tribes aren’t a little relieved that MGM, deploying deft lobbying and legal entanglements, has kept them from building a new casino in East Windsor to compete with MGM Springfield. Maybe they are better off not spending all that money for a new casino, which also would divert gamblers from their own properties in eastern Connecticut.

If Connecticut accepted MGM’s invitation to dance, and approved an MGM Bridgeport plan, the tribes would be free to stop paying 25 percent of the revenue from their reservation slot machines to the state. They already have tax-free table games.

A no-tax casino could be a pretty powerful competitor against anything MGM could build in Bridgeport.

How about if the tribes, if they were to get a big win from not having to pay a share of slot revenues to the state, pay out more in slot play to gamblers. What if they were to advertise having the loosest slots in the world, paying back more to gamblers than any other casino.

If I were a slot player heading to Bridgeport, I certainly would consider going a little farther with the incentive to win bigger. And it’s not like they would have to compromise on a quality experience by choosing the eastern Connecticut reservations over Bridgeport.

It’s unlikely MGM could build any kind of facility anytime soon in Bridgeport that could rival the sprawling resorts the tribes have built here.

Of course, I especially like the hunker down in eastern Connecticut strategy because it would be good for the region. It certainly would be better for the tribes to continue to invest here instead of East Windsor or Bridgeport.

Maybe the Mohegans could make good on their promises of investing in the Norwich Hospital property to encourage more tourism destinations.

Tribal hunkering down also could let the state pursue whatever gambling taxes and Bridgeport job stimulus an MGM Bridgeport casino could bring.

It would be a win-win all around. Let the best casino win.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com