East Windsor Leaders Argue Gambling Expansion Deal Pulls Rug Out From Under Them

Posted By Derek Helling on March 23, 2021

For most parties in Connecticut, Gov. Ned Lamont’s gambling expansion deal with the two tribal casino operators was nothing but great news. If you’re invested in the East Windsor community, however, there’s a reason for dissent.

The new compact terms require the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribal nations to hit the brakes on their plans to develop a casino in East Windsor. For the town’s leadership, that comes at a serious cost.

What East Windsor officials are saying about the agreements

“We’re all just flabbergasted,” said CT Rep. Carol Hall, whose district is close to the proposed site of Tribal Winds Casino. “This was a project that everybody was supporting, so it’s very confusing to me why the governor would meddle in that.”

Other local and state leaders have expressed similar discontent. They feel Lamont used Tribal Winds as a bargaining chip to get a revenue share for the state from the tribal groups.

The deal, like many others, is a series of concessions. For example, Lamont agreed to cut the revenue share on online casino revenue from 20% to 18% for the first five years. As a concession to Lamont, the tribal nations agreed to halt the development of Tribal Winds for the term of the new compacts.

That means for at least the next decade, there will be no casino in East Windsor. A mutual option to extend the compacts another five years could put the project even further off, though.

For the town, that means a loss of potential economic impact that the casino would bring. It also means a 30-acre plot earmarked for the casino sits vacant for the time being. Thus, area officials have some grievances.

What East Windsor officials are looking for

“This is a real handicap imposed on us by the state,” said East Windsor First Selectman Jason Bowsza. “And we certainly hope there will be some meaningful consideration in terms of providing additional, direct state revenue to the town.”

As far as what that consideration could consist of, a piece of the state’s revenue share is ideal. A legislative report estimates that online gambling will bring an additional $80 million in revenue to CT.

Bowsza argues that the state could provide the $3 million in annual revenue that the town projected to receive from Tribal Winds’ presence. Then, the other issue is the vacant lot.

Bowsza would like for the tribal groups to relinquish their hold on the land. The parcel sits off Interstate 91. That may prove the more difficult task.

The CT legislature and the US Dept. of the Interior still have to give their approval to the new gaming compacts. It’s possible that the legislature could approve the deals with the intent to earmark funds for East Windsor in further legislation.

However, mandating the tribes sell the land might prove far more difficult. The tribes could desire to hold onto the lot in the hopes that a future renegotiated compact would allow them to move forward.

In fact, Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Chairman Rodney Butler said the casino was “still a viable project.” It’s uncertain if a decade will change that sentiment. What’s clear, however, is that East Windsor feels like it’s on the outside looking in on gambling expansion right now.

Photo by AP / Susan Haigh
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