The General Assembly's Public Safety Committee voted 22-3 in favor of the revamped legislation. It would create a process enabling private casino developers to submit proposals to build a gambling facility somewhere in Connecticut, possibly in Bridgeport.
Unlike the original version, the amended bill no longer strips last year's legislative approval of a new tribal casino in East Windsor, which is being developed by the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes to compete with MGM Resorts' new casino opening soon in Springfield, Massachusetts. The tribes argue the jointly owned casino near the state border - the first on non-tribal land - is needed to protect thousands of jobs at their existing southeastern Connecticut casinos, Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort Casino.
But the project has been delayed, pending federal approval. That prompted some lawmakers to push for legislation this session that would rescind last year's legislative approval and create the competitive casino bidding process.
"I'm not willing to wait five years for a decision to come down on whether or not that casino may or may not happen," said Democratic Rep. Joe Verrengia, of West Hartford, the committee's House chairman. Verrengia said he wouldn't have backed a competitive casino bill if the tribal project was on track. He ultimately voted in favor of the compromise.
The tribal leaders have expressed confidence they will secure the needed approvals and be operational within two years. Earlier this month, more than 100 people gathered at the site of the tribes' proposed casino, the former Showcase Cinemas in East Windsor, to watch an excavator begin demolishing the building to clear the way for the planned 200,000-square-foot venue.
At that event, the tribal leaders urged Connecticut lawmakers not to scuttle last year's legislative approvals.
"We've been through too much already together to give up," said Mohegan Tribal Chairman Kevin Brown. "And we're not going to."
MGM has been lobbying in favor of the original bill this session. The casino giant has said it wants to build a casino and entertainment complex in Bridgeport, but last year's legislation unfairly thwarted MGM's ability to pursue the project.
Uri Clinton, MGM's senior vice president and legal counsel, did not mention in a written statement how lawmakers on Friday protected last year's approval of the tribal casino. Rather, he said MGM will "continue to advocate actively for a fair and full opportunity to compete for Connecticut's commercial gaming license."
The amended bill now awaits further action in the House of Representatives.
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