A graphic from the economic impact study.
Gov. Ned Lamont and Rodney Butler, the chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot tribal nation, during a private discussion at the Connecticut Convention Center in May. Frankie Graziano / Connecticut Public Radio

As legislative allies promote gambling legislation favorable to the tribe, the Mashantucket Pequots are releasing an economic impact study that says the tribe is Connecticut’s eighth-largest employer with a $180 million payroll and an outsized economic impact in some of the state’s poorest communities.

The study’s release Thursday comes as the Pequots and the state’s other federally recognized tribe, the Mohegans, are pressing the General Assembly and Gov. Ned Lamont for exclusive rights to sports betting to bolster the appeal of their casinos in an increasingly competitive northeastern gambling market.

“The study confirms what we have known: the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and Foxwoods Resort Casino continues to be a vital part of Connecticut’s economy, supporting jobs, businesses and communities across the state,” said Rodney Butler, the tribal chairman.

The document was largely based on 2017 data and was produced for the tribe by Jonathan B. Taylor, an economic policy consultant who specializes in a tribal clientele. His web site says, “Native nations use our research for internal decision-making, in negotiations, for tribal policy, and in contested proceedings.”

Taylor’s study is an affirmation, not a rebuttal.

The role of the tribe and its casino, a resort that once claimed to be the largest in the world, in eastern Connecticut’s economy is not generally questioned in Hartford, nor is it an element of the debate over casino expansion.

Gov. Ned Lamont’s reluctance to endorse the bill sought by the tribes stems from his inability to negotiate a grand bargain with the tribes and MGM Resorts International, the owner of competing facilities in Massachusetts and New York.

The administration has pressed the tribes to give up plans to jointly build an East Windsor casino, not far from MGM Springfield, and instead consider a site in Bridgeport in return for rights to sports betting in Connecticut. MGM is threatening to tie up gambling expansion with litigation if East Windsor goes forward.

Butler suggested that Lamont stand with the tribe, regardless of threats from MGM.

“The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation is not a business looking for an advantageous location. We are a Nation that has been part of Connecticut for hundreds of years. We’re not going anywhere,” Butler said. “Rather than pit us against out-of-state businesses, we’d urge the state to work with us, government-to-government, to protect the jobs and prosperity we’ve created, and to grow the economy.”

Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, the tribe’s most vocal ally in the legislature, already recites a litany of economic facts about the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribal nations while promoting gambling expansion sought by both tribes.

Some of the numbers in the study are well-known: Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun have shared $8 billion in slots revenue with the state over the past quarter century under a deal struck by Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr.

The study does make an effort to downplay concerns that a significant portion of the casinos’ economic impact comes at the expense of other enterprises competing for the disposable income of Connecticut residents.

The study says “more than three-quarters of Foxwoods’ gaming dollars in 2017 came from out-of-state patrons,” meaning that most of the tribe’s economic impact “is overwhelmingly a net contribution.” 

“Moreover, because Mashantucket Pequot payroll concentrates nearby, and nearby towns have incomes below the median for Connecticut, the Tribes’ attraction of out-of-state visitors translates into jobs where they are needed,” Taylor wrote. “Since 83% of MPTN’s payroll goes to zip codes below the median, the Tribe directly improves geographic disparities in the Connecticut income distribution.”

At the end of 2017, employment on the reservation was 9,702, including 6,772 at Foxwoods and other tribal enterprises, 544 in tribal government, and 2,386 others employed on the reservation by non-tribal restaurants and stores.

Seventy-seven percent of the payroll went to Connecticut residents.

Total employment ranked the tribe just behind the University of Connecticut.

As a standalone entity, Foxwoods ranked 13th in total employment, just behind the Mohegan Sun and The Hartford, but ahead of Aetna.

Pequot Economic Impact 2019 07 12 (Text)

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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