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Casino Expansion Won't Pass The House Unless Tribes Pay For Exclusive Rights

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Casino Expansion Won't Pass The House Unless Tribes Pay For Exclusive Rights

Despite the Senate's overwhelming approval of a casino bill, Democratic leaders in the House said Wednesday the operators of Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun should pay for the privilege of getting the exclusive right to expand casino gambling in Connecticut.

"This is not meant to be disrespectful to anyone or presumptuous, the bill that passed the Senate cannot pass the House," House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said, in a news conference at the Capitol.

Early Wednesday, the Senate voted 24-12 to approve allowing the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes to establish the state's first commercial casino in East Windsor. The expansion is being framed as a strategy to preserve Connecticut jobs and state revenue tied to the gaming industry in the face of competition from a new casino under construction in Springfield.

The payment for exclusivity could come in the form a licensing fee. The Senate bill does not include such a fee; but a competing bill in the House that would open casino expansion to more bidders does. The fee in that bill is $250 million.

"We believe in the House that that exclusivity aspect of expanding gambling in the state of Connecticut is worth something," House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz said in the news conference. "We believe in the House that expanded gambling in the state of Connecticut is worth something to the bidding process. The Senate didn't think so. We respectfully disagree, and we will work on the bill as it comes down and see what we can do to provide budgetary relief for our residents."

Central to the debate over expansion is revenue that comes to the state from the casinos. Under a long-standing agreement. the state gets a 25 percent share of slot revenue each month in exchange for Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun getting exclusive rights to operate slot machines. This year, the state's share is expected to be $267 million.

But the Democrats also have included licensing fees from a third casino in their budget proposal for the next two fiscal years, as the state has struggled with a deepening deficit.

Aresimowicz acknowledged the role the tribes have played as good corporate citizens but "we are in a budget crisis, and we have to do what is right for the state."

Aresimowicz said there is agreement in the House that casino gaming should be expanded and could aid in dealing with the state's budget deficit.

"Now what form it takes and who it's with is the question," Aresimowicz said.

House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said there is a wide range of opinions on casino expansion among House Republicans. Some like the Senate bill, while others favor competitive bidding and still others like neither, she said.

"Certainly I understand supporting business as the two casinos that have been in the state many years," Klarides said. "It is certainly a serious consideration. But there are a lot of balls in the air."

If the legislature decides to expand casino gaming, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has said he would only support the expansion by the Mashantucket Pequots and Mohegans. Malloy has said he is neutral on whether the state should expand casino gambling.

Rep. Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford and co-chairman of the legislature's finance committee, said Wednesday the signal from Malloy will certainly carry weight with some Democratic lawmakers. But there are some that clearly favor competitive bidding, he said.

"I hope it's not a 'do nothing' thing," Rojas said. "I don't think we can afford to do a do nothing bill."

Read more http://news.google.com/news/url?sa=t&fd=R&ct2=us&usg=AFQjCNHR0t7lm3BfIwKe_Q5ui-HU0ERC6w&clid=c3a7d30bb8a4878e06b80cf16b898331&cid=52779505884754&ei=w1YmWYjiFoGihgGW6InABA&url=http://www.courant.com/business/hc-house-casino-expansion-bill-reaction-20170524-story.html

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