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Connecticut tribes say they’re holding off on planned casino

December 9, 2020 GMT

EAST WINDSOR, Conn. (AP) — Leaders of Connecticut’s two federally recognized Native American tribes announced Wednesday they’ve decided to temporarily set aside plans to open the long-delayed, jointly-owned Tribal Winds casino in East Windsor, noting a need to focus on their existing casinos that have each been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

In a joint statement, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and Mohegan Tribe said they need to focus their efforts “for the foreseeable future” on Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun, which have faced “unprecedented challenges” over the past seven months. Both casinos were shuttered for nearly three months earlier this year and are now operating at 25% capacity to prevent spread of COVID-19.

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“Every day brings new challenges and we’re doing our best to navigate these waters because we know how important our businesses are to the surrounding communities, our employees and the state as a whole,” they wrote. “The best thing we can do right now for each of those stakeholders is to focus foremost on the success of Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods.”

Earlier this week, Foxwoods announced that it will furlough less than 100 employees, reduce gambling options and hotel capacity as the ill effects of the pandemic continue. Both Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun are located in southeastern Connecticut.

A spokesman said the tribal leaders recently briefed local and state officials about their planned delay of the $300 million East Windsor casino, which has faced numerous hurdles, including delays in federal approvals and legal challenges from rival MGM Resorts, which opened a casino in nearby Springfield, Massachusetts, in 2018 and has sought to block the tribes’ project since 2015.

The tribal leaders said they’re not giving up on the project. In 2019, they told state lawmakers they had already invested $16 million in the planned gambling and entertainment complex, which would be located on the site of a former movie theater multiplex along Interstate 91 near the Connecticut-Massachusetts border. It was originally projected to generate 5,000 jobs, including construction jobs.

“We’ve been through so many ups and downs when it comes to the Tribal Winds project. There have been many moments where it was clear the easiest path would be to just walk away,” they said in the joint statement. “And while there’s no way we could have accounted for this latest delay, we still believe Tribal Winds is a viable project that will come to fruition once markets improve and we’ve taken concrete steps toward restoring normal business operations.”

Both tribes are hoping the General Assembly and Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont finally enact legislation allowing them to offer sports and internet betting. State lawmakers are scheduled to convene on Jan. 6 for the new legislative session. Foxwoods this week announced plans to partner with sports betting operator DraftKings, in anticipation of Connecticut legalizing sports betting.