Capitol Connection: Could New Casinos Come to Connecticut?

November 19, 2014

Lately there has been a lot of buzz about expanding gaming in Connecticut. With a new casino being built in Springfield, Massachusetts some people are talking about bringing a new Connecticut casino to the I-91 corridor near Hartford – an attempt to keep people from venturing out of state to hit the slots.

There are strong opinions on both sides of this issue. Some don’t want to see gambling grow. Others don’t want to see gaming revenue migrate north, away from CT. Before we even debate the pros and cons, let’s take a closer look at “how” a new casino would be able to come to our state. Gambling is highly regulated federally and locally, and there are many hoops to jump through before anything can even be close to finalized.

State & Federal Law

State law allows organizations to operate a state lottery, wagering betting (like jai alai and dog racing), off-track betting (OTB), and charitable gaming (such as bingo and raffles). However, “class III” gaming, meaning slot machines and casinos, is only legal on federally recognized Indian reservations with a negotiated tribal-state compact. The State Senate and House of Representatives, as well as the U.S. Department of the Interior, must approve such compacts.

In Connecticut, two distinct agreements are in place with the Mashantucket Pequots, who operate Foxwoods Casino, and the Mohegans, who operate Mohegan Sun Casino. These tribes have the exclusive rights to operate slot machines and commercial casino games in Connecticut. In exchange for the exclusivity, each tribe must contribute 25% of its gross slot machine revenue to the state monthly. Under current law, no other group is allowed to operate casinos.

In addition, all casino operations must stay on Native American reservations – usually. Under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) casino and slot machine gaming is permitted only on Indian lands. However, some exceptions are allowed and off-reservation gaming is acceptable only if gaming on such land would (a) be in a tribe’s best interest and (b) not be detrimental to the surrounding community.

Impact on I-91 Casino Plans

Any plans to open a new casino in CT would have to involve either the Mohegans or Mashantucket Pequots. Both tribes would also have to approve any proposal put forward. In addition, anyone who plans to open a gaming facility outside of a Native American reservation would have to prove that such an addition would benefit a tribe and not harm the community. To determine this, a complex approval process involving the legislature, governor, attorney general and the tribes would have to occur.

While some have spoken out against the idea to add a new casino, others view it as a way to protect a major source of state revenue. Whichever way you look at it, the conversation is just beginning and more exploration surely awaits the legislature in the coming months.