Southwestern CT represents the state’s best chance for a third casino

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By Ralf Roletschek

A thriving new commercial gaming facility in southwestern Connecticut, with full access to the powerful New York market. Thousands of new well-paying jobs. Hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenues for the state. This is a genuine possibility now for Connecticut, thanks to newly proposed legislation that, at last, gets it right. And which finally would give the state a chance to do right by my tribe, Schaghticoke Tribal Nation.

The Schaghticoke, of which I have proudly served as Chief since 1987, were first recognized by the State of Connecticut more than 300 years ago, which without question makes us one of Connecticut’s First Families.  And from its colony days to its admission to the nation in 1788, we have witnessed our state’s entire history through the prism of broken promises and stolen opportunities.

But today we see a genuine opportunity for our tribe and our state, an opportunity for true economic development and job creation. A newly proposed bill, House Bill 7319, allows for the possible establishment of the state’s first commercial gaming operation in a way that allows us the chance to compete on a level playing field.

This opportunity was nearly squandered with the hasty passage of Special Act 15-7 in 2015, which essentially awarded a gaming monopoly to the Mashantuckets and Mohegans and the entity they have formed together known as MMCT. This Special Act and legislation proposed this year to implement it – Senate Bill 957 – would allow for MMCT to build a limited gaming facility in East Windsor, designed more to disrupt MGM’s $950 million casino investment in Springfield than to spur any true economic growth for Connecticut.

Fortunately support for that bill seems to be waning, as it should. If we’re going to do this, Connecticut citizens need to demand a better deal.

This new bill, currently being considered by the Legislature’s Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, does demand a better deal by significantly raising the level of investment and commitment required. The state needs to realize the full potential of commercial gaming here – millions more in new annual revenues and thousands of well-paying jobs – rather than treat this as a spoiler for a new casino just over the border.

This bill takes the opportunity seriously. It does so by requiring a minimum investment of $500 million – substantially higher than what MMCT has planned in East Windsor – a higher percentage of gross gaming revenue and, yes, a competitive and open process.

STN stands ready, willing and able to compete for the right to offer commercial casino gaming in southwestern Connecticut, and this bill creates the necessary pathway.

Several years ago, we conducted a preliminary assessment of potential casino-gaming facility sites, and determined a new commercial casino located in our ancestral hunting grounds of western or southwestern Connecticut would be economically viable. Additionally, a study done by Oxford Economics last year shows southwestern Connecticut has five times the value for gaming development than north central Connecticut.

Before the U.S. Interior Department bowed to political pressure and stripped our hard-earned federal recognition in 2005, our tribe had backing and support from several high profile casino-minded investors. We created relationships and drew up plans with developers, investors, casino operators, local mayors and representatives of other recognized tribes. We had the vision, the relationships and the backing to do it then, just as we do today.

All we need is a chance and a pathway to compete. This bill gives us that chance by demanding a better deal for Connecticut.

Richard Velky is Chief of Schaghticoke Tribal Nation. This op-ed was based on his testimony before the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee on April 17, 2017.

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