East Windsor And Bridgeport: The Next CT Casino Locations?

For decades, Connecticut gaming has been dominated by the tale of two casinos: Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun. However, over recent years that tale has included an ongoing, contentious side story concerning the possibility of a third casino opening in the state.

On one side, the state’s two federally recognized tribes, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and the Mohegan Tribe of Indians of Connecticut, have shown interest in joining forces to open a third tribal-owned casino to the state. Meanwhile, MGM Resorts International has had its sights on building a commercial casino in Bridgeport for several years.

Needless to say, neither side is very enthused by their competitor’s plans, with both exerting great effort to oppose the other’s progress. On top of it all, any new casino would necessarily require approval from Connecticut lawmakers.

While some have shown interest and there have even been votes granting such approval, efforts to bring a third casino to the state, to Bridgeport, East Windsor, or anywhere else, have repeatedly stalled. Given all the competing interests, it hasn’t been too surprising to see this third casino project subplot stretching further and further amid intense lobbying and debate.

History of the Bridgeport casino project

Foxwoods Resort Casino (operated by the Mashantucket Pequot) and Mohegan Sun (operated by the Mohegan Tribe) each opened during the 1990s. Both of these expansive CT casinos are located with a few miles of each other in the southeastern part of the state.

Starting in 2014, the tribes began to explore the possibility of working together to build a third casino in the state. In 2016, Connecticut lawmakers voted against a bill proposing to study the feasibility of building a third casino in the state. However, the tribes saw that vote as a victory, believing a study would unnecessarily delay moving forward with such a project. The tribes formed a joint company, MMCT Venture, to begin reviewing site proposals.

The tribes began to focus on East Windsor, even choosing a name for a planned-for property, the Tribal Winds Casino.

East Windsor is located in the central part of the state, just north of the capital city of Hartford and only a 15-minute drive from Massachusetts. The tribes picked the location in part because of a desire to compete with the new MGM Springfield casino that was due to open just across the border.

Meanwhile, MGM Resorts International soon showed it was ready to compete with the tribes not just from Massachusetts but also within Connecticut’s borders.

MGM ups the ante with proposed Bridgeport casino

In 2016, MGM partnered with the Connecticut-based Schaghticoke Tribal Nation to pursue the possibility of building a casino in Bridgeport. The Schaghticoke Tribal Nation achieved federal recognition in 2004. However, the state challenged that recognition, which was revoked a year later. Currently, the only federally recognized tribes in Connecticut are the Mashantucket Pequot and the Mohegans.

The joint effort of MGM and the Schaghticoke began with a couple of lawsuits filed in 2016, one from each party. Both challenged the constitutionality of Connecticut only allowing the two federally recognized tribes to operate casinos in the state. However, a federal judge dismissed MGM’s lawsuit, and soon after the Schaghticoke tribe withdrew their lawsuit as well.

MGM continued to forge ahead on its own with its MGM Bridgeport project. Providing further impetus, in late spring 2017, Connecticut lawmakers passed a bill authorizing the tribes to build a $300 million casino in East Windsor. In July, Gov. Jim Malloy signed the bill into law.

MGM responded by vowing they would continue their legal challenges. The company began providing in detail its vision for what its Bridgeport property would look like.

MGM’s website continues to feature a section sharing artist’s renderings and descriptions of the resort. Details include:

  • 300-room hotel
  • 100,000 square feet of casino space
  • 2,000 slot machines
  • 160 table games
  • Entertainment venue, theater, pool, spa, and extensive meeting space
  • Multiple bars, restaurants, retail stores, and other amenities

Even so, despite such an enthusiastic presentation, the project appears unlikely to come to fruition.

The MGM Bridgeport casino project: A timeline

April 2021: Multiple tenants strike deals and begin leasing property on the Bridgeport harbor, among them transportation and sailmaking companies. The companies occupy acreage once reserved for the MGM Bridgeport casino, a project the CT Post says “appears to be dead.”

March 2021: Amid advancing sports betting legislation and ongoing renegotiation of tribal-state compacts, an agreement is reached between Gov. Ned Lamont and the tribes concerning future casino plans. The tribes agreed not to stop pursuing an East Windsor casino for 10 years. Meanwhile one of the bills under consideration would allow the tribes to build a casino in Bridgeport.

February 2020: At an informational committee hearing, tribal leaders reiterate their interest in opening an East Windsor casino. They also noted they’d be interested in opening a smaller casino in Bridgeport, if it were permitted.

October 2019: The CT Post reported that during the summer MGM renewed its contract with the RCI Group who controls land on Bridgeport Harbor, thereby signaling the company’s continued interest in the MGM Bridgeport project.

May 2018: The House narrowly approves legislation that would enable a process to allow commercial developers (e.g., MGM) to propose building casinos in the state. However the bill fails to gain needed support on the Senate side.

November 2017: In a conference call with investors, MGM Resorts International Chief Executive Jim Murren omits mentioning the Bridgeport project. Murren even adds that MGM Springfield (due to open in late summer 2018) would be the company’s “last major development project here in the United States.”

September 2017: After unsuccessfully challenging the tribes’ East Windsor project, MGM pitches its own $675 million Bridgeport casino to the state. Meanwhile, the tribes doubt the sincerity of MGM’s Bridgeport plan, with a spokesperson describing it as a “stunt.”

Other legislative efforts concerning a third CT casino

Both the MGM Bridgeport project and the tribes’ East Windsor one have always been contingent upon lawmakers formally approving a third CT casino.

As noted above, in 2017 the state’s lawmakers passed a law authorizing the tribes to build their East Windsor casino. The 200,000-square-foot complex could have up to 2,000 slots and 150 table games, though no hotel or other amenities.

However, when it came to amending the compacts, the Department of Interior‘s Bureau of Indian Affairs withheld its approval. The tribes sued, but in October 2018 their lawsuit was dismissed. Then in March 2019 the DOI somewhat unexpectedly (and without explanation) posted a notice it had accepted the amendment to allow the tribes to move ahead with their East Windsor property.

During those intervening months waiting for the DOI’s approval, MGM Springfield opened in Massachusetts in August 2018. That provided more encouragement to some lawmakers to remove legal obstacles preventing a third CT casino.

In July 2019, a bipartisan group of lawmakers brought forth legislation to authorize the tribes to build a third casino in Bridgeport. That bill did not advance, and when reintroduced in 2020 again did not move forward. However, other provisions in the bill concerning expanded gambling and sports betting that many supported. Some of those provisions would subsequently resurface in later legislation (discussed below).

Tribal compacts renegotiated in 2021

As noted, as part of the preparation for the new sports betting bill the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes renegotiated their compacts with the state of Connecticut. The amendments to the renewed compacts were announced in March 2021.

Initially, only the Mohegans’ compact was amended. But a couple of weeks later the Mashantucket Pequots’ was as well. In the end, both tribes’ newly amended compacts include essentially the same changes.

The new compacts allow both tribes to open retail sportsbooks in their casinos. The tribes can also offer online sports betting as well as online casino games. Tax revenue on sports betting was set at 13.75%. Meanwhile, the tax on online casino revenue was set at 18% for the first five years and 20% after that. The agreement is for 10 years, with a five-year extension option.

The amendments also indicate the tribes’ concession to allow the Connecticut Lottery to offer both online sports betting and to operate up to 15 retail locations. One of those 15 locations will be in Bridgeport.

The amended compacts do not include any language regarding a Bridgeport casino. However, they do specifically address the tribes’ plans in East Windsor. By entering the new compacts, both tribes agree to stop development on an East Windsor casino for the duration of the compact, or at least 10 years.

The updated compacts still need the Connecticut legislature to pass a bill approving the changes. After that, they will also require federal approval from the DOI’s Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Will a third casino open in Connecticut?

Most interested parties appear to have moved away from the idea of bringing a third casino to Connecticut, at least for the time being.

Both the tribes and lawmakers currently appear focused on sports betting and online gambling options, and MGM seems more concerned with its other US properties and developing internationally. The amended compacts also expressly prohibit the tribes from considering an East Windsor casino until at least the early 2030s. While the tribes could theoretically think about a Bridgeport property, that doesn’t seem much of a priority at present.

Connecticut residents should not count on seeing a third casino open any time soon. That said, online casino games and online sportsbooks should soon arrive for those in CT. The CT Lottery-run retail sportsbooks should be opening soon as well, including one in Bridgeport.