House speaker says odds favor expanded gaming off tribal lands

House speaker says odds favor expanded gaming off tribal lands


HARTFORD — The possible expansion of gaming off tribal lands remains alive, and could be included as part of budget negotiations, House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz said.

He told reporters prior to the House’s session Tuesday that support for the notion of a third casino continues to increase in his caucus, and he now puts the odds of gaming expansion at “closer to 65-35.”

Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, had previously given the prospect a “50-50” chance, but said House Democrats are becomingly increasingly concerned about the potential threat that MGM’s Springfield casino poses to jobs and state revenue.

“We need to preserve those jobs, we need to preserve that funding, and we need to do it in a strategic way,” he said. It remains to be seen what gaming expansion might look like, though.

Aresimowicz said legalizing marijuana also remains an option because “the dollar amounts associated with marijuana are real,” but said his caucus members are “pretty equally divided” on the issue.

Lawmakers are negotiating with Malloy on how to balance a budget facing a projected deficit that is just shy of $5 billion combined over the next two years.

Malloy and Democratic and Republican leaders are scheduled to produce new budget proposals after revenue projections released last week showed further declines in income.

Aresimowicz said declines in income and concerns about the revenues the state receives from the two tribal casinos have led to more lawmakers warming up to the idea of a third casino.

The state receives roughly $260 million annually as part of agreements with the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes, but those figures have plummeted from their peaks as more states in the Northeast add casinos.

The two tribes, who have formed the joint venture MMCT, also warn that MGM’s Springfield casino, slated to open next year, could result in the loss of 9,000 gaming jobs.

They are seeking to build a casino along Interstate 91 in East Windsor, a facility they said would help mitigate the potential loss. The Appropriations Committee approved a proposal Monday that would allow that project to move forward.

Separately, some lawmakers have expressed a preference to open the expansion up to other bidders after MGM suggested revenues generated by a casino in southwestern Connecticut would exceed those by MMCT’s East Windsor proposal.

The two tribes have said that opening the process to other bidders would violate their compact with the state, thus depriving the state of its stream of gaming revenues.

MGM, whose Massachusetts license forbids it from building another casino within 50 miles of Springfield, said the potential to levy a higher tax rate could balance out that loss. They also said the state could see a short-term benefit through application fees.

Aresimowicz said Tuesday said he still hasn’t seen an indication that a majority of his caucus supports one proposal over the other, making it uncertain which path to expansion he would try to pursue. 203-317-2266 Twitter: @reporter_savino

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