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Connecticut lawmakers, tribes voice support for new casinos

March 10, 2015 GMT

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A coalition of Connecticut legislators, the state’s two federally recognized Indian tribes and union leaders joined forces Tuesday to announce they’re backing a bill that would allow up to three new, smaller casinos to help combat gambling competition from neighboring states.

Sen. Catherine Osten, a Democrat whose district includes the Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort Casinos, said concerns about losing jobs prompted the unprecedented push to open at least one jointly operated, satellite gambling facility. Tribal officials hope to open a location along the Interstate 91 corridor before MGM Resorts International opens a $600 million casino in nearby Springfield, Massachusetts, in 2017.

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“We will not stand aside and let other states — New York, Massachusetts or Rhode Island — take jobs away from Connecticut,” Osten said at a Capitol news conference.

While final details still need to be ironed out, the bill would allow the state consumer protection commissioner to issue up to three casino gambling facility licenses to Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes. The stand-alone facilities are expected to have mostly slot machines with some table games, but no hotels or theaters. Patrons would be able to use their Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun rewards cards to acquire points.

The two tribes currently have exclusive rights to offer casino-style gambling in Connecticut under an agreement that provides the state with 25 percent of the slot-machine revenues from Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods. Lawmakers said that arrangement could change for the new facility and the state could receive revenue from the table games as well.

A public hearing is tentatively planned for March 17 to discuss the legislation, which is being pushed strongly by the Senate Democratic caucus.

MGM Resorts International plans to open an $800 million casino in nearby Springfield within about 2½ years. Kevin Brown, chairman of the Mohegan Tribe, said he hopes a facility can be built first in Connecticut to fend off competition from that casino.

Senate Majority Leader Robert Duff said MGM plans to target gamblers in Connecticut’s capital city, providing buses to make the 26-mile trip from Hartford to Springfield.

“We won’t let Massachusetts bus out our jobs, and we’re going to fight very hard to make sure that we keep jobs in our state,” Duff said.

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Connecticut lawmakers are particularly interested in protecting the continued flow of Indian gambling payments to the state’s coffers, even though they’ve dropped off in recent years because of the recession and increased competition from out-of-state gambling venues. A major portion of the money is divided up among the state’s 169 cities and towns.

“This is still a significant revenue source for our state and our cities,” said Senate President Martin Looney, a Democrat from New Haven.

Fiscal year 2013 marked the first time in 15 years the state collected more revenue from the lottery than its share of slot machine money from the two tribal casinos. Data compiled by the Department of Consumer Protection’s gambling division showed the Connecticut Lottery Corp. transferred $312.1 million to the state’s General Fund for fiscal year 2013. The account is the main spending account for state government.

Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget projects the state’s share will further decline, to a low of $254.3 million in fiscal year 2017.

The high point for revenue to the state from both tribes was in 2007. That’s when they contributed a total of nearly $430.5 million — $229 million from Mohegan Sun and nearly $201.4 million from Foxwoods.

Connecticut still relies more on the nearly $10 billion it collects annually from the state’s personal income tax than the approximately $600 million it collects in total gambling revenues from the lottery, Indian gambling payments, off-track betting and charitable games to balance its approximate $20 billion annual budget.