The debate over the legality of the $300M Connecticut casino project heats up as legislators remain divided on whether the Mohegan-Foxwoods consortium can construct a casino outside federally recognized tribal land.
It was a debate that MGM Resorts International started as it challenged the operators of the state’s two tribal casinos – Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort Casino – to build a commercial casino off tribal lands near the Massachusetts border.
Apparently, the debate has already reached the Senate with Sen. Timothy D. Larson, D-East Hartford, committee co-chairman, saying that the issue will be voted upon by the legislature’s Public Safety and Security Committee, which oversees gaming.
“I frankly have no position on where it should end up,” Larson, whose hometown had offered property for a casino but was not named a finalist, said, according to Hartford Business Journal.
For Larson, the location of the casino doesn’t matter as long as it will be beneficial to the State. He pointed out that the casino will shield the state from losses when MGM Springfield opens.
“The reason why we’re doing this is for jobs,” he said. “They’re going to build a $300 million facility without any state aid and we’re going to reap the benefits of it whether it’s on one side of the Connecticut River or the other. … I’m not worried about which town it goes into. We’ve got to worry about jobs for the state.”
Republican Sen. Tony Guglielmo, on the other hand, doesn’t share Larson’s proposal saying that the new tribal casino isn’t “a long-term solution for the state of Connecticut.”
“It’s not a good way to rebuild our economy, to rely on gambling,” he said. “I’m not inclined to go recklessly cutting things off without discussion. I’d like to see what everybody has to say. I think that’s kind of a tradition of our committee. We’ll certainly be open to discussing it.”
Guglielmo also raised the constitutionality of the 2015 law that granted the casino rights solely to MMCT. He said that giving the MMCT a special treatment is generally “open to constitutional challenge.”
Newly appointed committee chairman Rep. Joseph Verrengia, D-West Hartford, echoed the sentiments of Guglielmo, admitting that he has questions over the legality of constructing a casino on private property.
The heart of his question lies on the April 2015 memo from Attorney General George Jepsen to legislative leadership addressing two issues on allowing the tribes to jointly operate a casino off tribal land.
These issues were: What it means for the existing compact the state has with the tribes and the potential effects if additional tribes achieve federal tribal recognition.
“Those are two very important questions that I need to have answered before I can take a stand one way or the other,” Verrengia said. “Those issues should be resolved before a third site is even considered. Those underlying issues haven’t gone away.”
And others haven’t forgotten either.
“Those are legitimate concerns that have been raised and should continue to be raised,” Rep. Christopher Davis, R-Ellington, said, adding there is an ongoing court case to determine whether the state has awarded a monopoly to two tribes by allowing only them to pursue a new casino.