Senator Tony Hwang: Trying To Stop Casinos [Hartford Courant]

May 20, 2015

Article as it appeared in the Hartford Courant

Top Senate leaders say they have the votes to pass a bipartisan bill Wednesday that would lead to the construction of a third casino in Connecticut.

Despite the odds, one freshman senator – Tony Hwang of Fairfield – has emerged as the most outspoken senator against expansion of any form of gambling, ranging from casinos to keno.

Hwang, a former three-term member of the state House of Representatives who took the seat vacated by former Senator John McKinney, says the state legislature has not properly calculated the societal costs of gambling addiction that includes lost jobs and broken families.

Hwang goes back to the fundamental question when asked about the bill that is expected to be approved in the Senate as early as Wednesday.

“The basic question, again, is why are we doing it at all?” Hwang asked. “We open up a potential Pandora’s Box of equal protection and due process” for other potential tribes that are seeking federal recognition.

He adds, “Leave good enough alone.’’

While the advocates remind legislators on a continuing basis about the need for jobs, Hwang counters with the problems associated with gambling.

“We’ve forgotten what the potential societal human costs of gambling has wrought,” he said. “We’re betting on an industry that has a downward trajectory.’’

At their peak in the 2007 fiscal year, the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes contributed $430 million to state coffers in a slot machine, revenue-sharing arrangement that was crafted during the tenure of then-Gov. Lowell P. Weicker, Jr. That total is expected to drop by more than half – to $189 million – in the 2018 fiscal year due to the opening of the $800 MGM Resorts International casino just over the Massachusetts border in Springfield.

“I just don’t believe it’s the right solution for our state,” Hwang said. “Why do it at all? ‘’

But employees of the Mohegan Sun casino traveled to the Capitol on Tuesday to lobby legislators to vote in favor of the bill.

“If it doesn’t happen, we’ll probably be looking to move out of state,” said Robert Gallagher, a pit manager at Mohegan Sun.

If he moves, he says he would work “definitely in the casino business” at another venue. But Gallagher says he hopes that a third casino can be approved so that both tribes can maintain employment levels and save about 9,300 jobs.

“It’s all about jobs,” Gallagher said. “They can’t ignore the tax revenue that will be lost.”

Gallagher came to the Capitol with fellow managers Mitchell Friedman and Thomas Tomillo, along with Daniel Sefton, a former Pfizer employee who works in cybersecurity and attempts to block the hackers who are seeking to break into the casino’s computers.