Ganim pitches sweet deal for tribes to open Bridgeport casino
The 11th-hour gambling legislation sought by Bridgeport Mayor Joseph P. Ganim would entice the tribal owners of Connecticut’s two casinos to build a $350 million casino in his city with a promise of $100 million from the “city and/or state” and valuable exclusive rights to online sports betting and internet casino gaming.
The terms of an amendment Sen. Dennis Bradley, D-Bridgeport, would attach to a casino expansion bill that has been sitting on the Senate calendar since April were circulated Tuesday night among legislative leaders of both parties in the House and Senate. They were reviewed by CT Mirror.
The Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes would get rights to jointly develop a Bridgeport casino, retain their 2017 authorization to build an East Windsor casino to compete with MGM Springfield, and also have the right to develop up to three other “entertainment zone” facilities with sports wagering in other communities.
Two legislative leaders, who declined to be quoted, said they saw little chance the General Assembly would accommodate Ganim’s pitch for lawmakers to approve a radical expansion of casino and online gambling, not to mention his call for $100 million in state or local financing, without significant public vetting.
The 2019 session ends today at midnight.
Ganim left the Capitol without answering questions Tuesday near midnight, at first professing no knowledge of the summary that he had been presenting to leaders. The summary indicated a $100 million public investment in the casino, while a tribal lobbyist said the public dollars would be sought to pay for “infrastructure.”
“I have no idea, no idea,” Ganim said of the proposal or its prospects for passage. “That’s why I’m up here. We’ve got to midnight tomorrow night. I guess we’ll just have to see what happens.”
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, who has hosted Ganim and the tribes in his office to talk about the possibilities of a joint venture in Bridgeport, said he was surprised to see the call for $100 million in public financing. He previously has ruled out public financing.
The recently passed budget creates a Municipal Redevelopment Authority, a quasi-public agency that could bond for city and town development efforts across Connecticut. One legislative leader said it’s now clear that the authority was created as a potential vehicle to help develop a Bridgeport casino.
Bradley said he had not given up on a vote today.
“I’m hearing very positive remarks from House leadership, specifically the speaker, who is almost giddy about making this happen,” Bradley said. “And I think the tribes are willing to put skin in the game as well and make a substantive commitment to Bridgeport.”
The tribal owners of Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun won legislative authorization in 2017 to jointly develop a smaller casino off I-91 in East Windsor to blunt the loss of market share to MGM Springfield. The Department of Interior withheld approval of amendments to the tribes’ gambling agreements with Connecticut until recently, delaying construction.
MGM, which says it would build a casino in Bridgeport if allowed by the state, says it will sue Connecticut if the tribes go forward with East Windsor. The tribes have yet to show they have obtained financing for East Windsor.
The administration of Gov. Ned Lamont tried and failed to strike a deal with the tribes in which they would abandon East Windsor in favor of a casino in Bridgeport. The city is less attractive to the tribes than East Windsor, since it would draw Fairfield County gamblers who otherwise would go to Foxwoods and Mohegan.
The administration has not said what sweeteners it offered the tribes, other than a share of sports betting.
The proposal circulated by Ganim would waive a $30 million payment the tribes would immediately owe the state once the East Windsor casino opens. It also calls for extended hours to serve liquor, possibly 24 hours a day.
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