The leaders of Connecticut's two federally recognized Indian tribes made a united pitch Tuesday to open at least one, jointly-owned casino, warning lawmakers the state could lose 18,000 jobs once a casino in neighboring Springfield, Massachusetts opens in 2½ years.
That figure includes both jobs at Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort Casino, as well as hundreds of vendors and other affected businesses across the state.
Kevin Brown, chairman of the Mohegan Tribe, said his appearance at Tuesday's Public Safety Committee hearing with Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, underscores the gravity of the situation.
"Even though our tribes have a long history of fierce competition and even though we are competitors in business today, this threat is serious," Brown told the legislators. "It creates a common ground, for everyone in this room, Democrat and Republican, sovereign tribe to sovereign state, tribe to tribe, union to nonunion. There is a common denominator, and it is the jobs that stand to be lost."
The committee is considering legislation that would ultimately authorize the tribes to open up to three new gambling facilities in the state. The tribes want to build a casino as soon as possible along the Interstate 91 corridor in northern Connecticut to blunt the competition from the new $600 million MGM Resorts International facility planned in Springfield.
"As clearly demonstrated with the expansion in Rhode Island and New York, it has cost Connecticut thousands of jobs. Unless addressed, the advent of casino gaming in Massachusetts will cost Connecticut thousands more," Butler warned. About 100 casino workers, including unionized employees at Foxwoods, rallied outside the state Capitol in support of the proposal.
Existing gambling enterprises expressed concern about the tribes' proposal. Anne Noble, president and CEO of the Connecticut Lottery Corporation, said she worries about the possible "cannibalization of lottery sales" if expanded casino gambling is allowed.
Ted Taylor, president of Sportech Venues, said he fears his company's 15 pari-mutuel venues across the state will suffer, especially its Windsor Locks property. He said building another tribal casino, in addition to the MGM facility, will have a devastating financial effect on Sportech and its 400 employees.
"New casinos on the scale being discussed alongside the three main Interstates would obviously have a profound and negative impact on other leisure and entertainment businesses nearby and merely move employment and revenue a few miles away and to different owners," said Taylor, who suggested the tribes could locate its I-91 facility at Sportech's Windsor Locks facility.
Various local officials from southeastern Connecticut testified support for the proposal, touting the importance of protecting jobs.
Brown said the new facilities would be "world class gaming facilities" with slot machines and some table games that would target the "convenience gamer" who does not want to drive to Springfield.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy appeared lukewarm about the proposal, saying it's not revenue-generator for the state.
"I do understand that the argument they're making is about jobs," he said. "I'll listen to those arguments but this is not my legislation, it's not my proposal."