The sight of Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council Chairman Rodney Butler and Mohegan Tribal Council Chairman Kevin Brown sitting side by side before a General Assembly committee earlier this year was groundbreaking to say the least. There was a wonderful sense of camaraderie and cooperation on a very important matter concerning state revenues and jobs.
Their testimony was groundbreaking as well. They were there, together, on behalf of a joint-tribal proposal for up to three more casinos in Connecticut. Collaboration between the state’s two biggest business rivals? Some said it would never happen.
The Mashantucket Pequot’s Foxwoods Resort Casino opened to overflow crowds 23 years ago. The Mohegan Tribe followed in 1996, and over the next decades, in the spirit of keen competition, both tribes expanded their gaming and other offerings exponentially.
Then came the recession which hit both enterprises hard. Coupled with the growth of casinos and other gaming enterprises elsewhere, both facilities, which together employed close to 20,000 people directly and thousands more indirectly, have witnessed a loss of visitors and revenue and have seen employment shrink by more than 35 percent since 2007.
Despite these facts, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun remain among the biggest and most profitable casinos in the world.
Competition will still remain among the tribes; however cooperation as well as state support must be part of the strategy going forward. The construction of three casinos across Massachusetts — including March’s groundbreaking by MGM on a casino set to open in 2017 mere miles from the Connecticut border, demands a strategic response on behalf of the state and the tribes.
Today, we have two of the state’s largest employers and biggest tourist attractions willing to invest more than $300 million dollars in our state to protect 10,000 existing jobs. Connecticut, a state of 169 municipalities that have directly benefited from the billions of dollars in slot revenues contributed by the Tribes to the state’s coffers, can and must give the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot Tribes the ability to compete to protect their businesses.
To those who question the concept of satellite casinos, I say look at the marketing studies. We already know how strategically placed casinos have captured business from Connecticut; we can use that knowledge to keep customers here.
According to a recent article in the Connecticut Mirror, spending at Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun by residents of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York dropped by more than 40 percent, from $1.53 billion to $883 million from 2006 to 2014. Teaming together to keep residents of those state’s spending their money inside Connecticut’s borders is a smart business strategy. To this end, the tribes’ proposal to the legislature would allow them to build up to three additional casinos in the state, with the priority gambling establishment built along I-91 north of Hartford to compete with the MGM Resorts International casino in Springfield, Mass.
If Connecticut does not allow the tribes to take steps to protect their businesses and revenues, the state will lose thousands of additional jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. This is why the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut fully supports this collaborative approach to protect this unique industry. In addition, both tribes and both casinos have been longtime members of the Chamber and generous supporters of the entire region.
I strongly urge the General Assembly and the governor to answer: yes.