Robert Steele and state Sen. Tony Hwang: New push for Bridgeport casinos raises red flags

March 16, 2017 GMT

Bridgeport is again in play for a casino, but the casino market and our knowledge of the way casinos impact communities have changed dramatically in the 22 years since Steve Wynn and Donald Trump fought each other for the right to open a casino in the Park City.

The renewed interest in Bridgeport stems from MGM’s effort to block the tribal owners of Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun from obtaining legislative approval to jointly open an off-reservation, commercial “convenience” casino in northern Connecticut that would compete with the MGM mega-casino being built in Springfield. MGM is urging the legislature to kill the tribes’ proposed casino and instead lure developers to bid on building a larger casino in southwestern Connecticut. The MGM proposal, which clearly has Bridgeport in mind, has been gaining traction with significant numbers of legislators.

The arguments for a Bridgeport casino are the same as they were in the 1990s: the state and city need money, a Bridgeport casino would provide access to the lucrative New York and Fairfield County markets, and Bridgeport is likely to be more receptive to a casino than other communities in the county.


The case against a Bridgeport casino has grown stronger, however.

First, cross-border competition has reduced Bridgeport’s casino potential. New York now has large electronic gambling casinos in Queens and Yonkers, it has just opened a new electronic casino in Islandia on Long Island, and it is in a position to quickly open a full-scale resort casino to further counter a Bridgeport casino if necessary. Moreover, online gambling is being considered in New York, which would add to the difficulty of attracting gambling dollars from New Yorkers.

As a result, the tax revenue and jobs a Bridgeport casino produced would be paid for overwhelmingly by the gambling losses of Connecticut residents, leaving them with less to spend on other areas of the state’s economy and merely redistributing existing money within the state without creating economic growth.

Second, the expansion of casino gambling (the U.S. now has almost 1,000 casinos) has provided a clearer picture of the social costs casino gambling entails, including addiction, debt, bankruptcies, broken families and crime.

For example:

According to a newly published interview with an addiction expert at the UConn School of Medicine, the growing gambling epidemic is hitting lower socioeconomic groups the hardest and the resulting societal costs are being borne by employers, law enforcement, social welfare agencies, and the health care system.

A 2009 state-sponsored study found that Connecticut’s casinos were followed by a steep increase in the number of Connecticut residents seeking treatment for gambling addiction as well as a 400 percent increase in arrests for embezzlement, a rate of increase 10 times the national average.


A recent book by MIT professor Natasha Schull titled “Addiction By Design” exposed the increasing addictiveness of today’s slot machines, which are the main money-makers for casinos.

A 2014 study from Western Connecticut State University showed that violent crimes (including murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault) increased in the towns surrounding Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun after the casinos arrived despite a sharp drop in violent crime nationally and in Connecticut as a whole. And while the number of theft crimes decreased, the value of property stolen skyrocketed by nearly 40 percent. Research also indicated increases in prostitution and illicit drug use.

According to a landmark report from the Institute for American Values, a non-partisan think tank, today’s local and regional casinos drain wealth from communities, weaken nearby businesses, hurt property values, and reduce civic participation, family stability, and other forms of social capital.

Factoring in all the economic and social costs, economist Earl Grinols, the leading independent expert on the subject, has concluded that the long-term negative costs of casinos typically outweigh their economic benefits by more than 3-1.

In response to the increasing body of data on casino gambling’s negative effects, a statewide coalition has formed to oppose casino expansion in Connecticut. The coalition includes most major religious groups, the Council of Churches of Greater Bridgeport, The Family Institute of Connecticut, the Connecticut League of Women Voters, and has been most recently joined by the Catholic Bishops of Connecticut.

Robert Steele of Essex was a U.S. Representative from eastern Connecticut and is the author of “The Curse: Big-Time Gambling’s Seduction of a Small New England Town.” State Sen. Tony Hwang, R-28th, is an Assistant Senate Republican Leader.