As MGM positions for an investment in Bridgeport, city policy wonk Jeff Kohut writes in this commentary “there is truly no other location on the East Coast that presents as attractive and lucrative a location for a casino as Bridgeport.”
Bridgeport is in desperate need of a huge amount of tax-base growth associated with tens of thousands of living-wage jobs. No thinking person living within driving distance of Bridgeport would dispute that. Our neighbors within driving radius know this–even those living in denial in regard to our exploitation value to them versus the negative impact on their ultimate safety and quality of life presented by their deliberate maintenance of our economic distress.
The above statement speaks directly to the present incarnation of the “Bridgeport Casino Debate.”
The first incarnation of the “debate”–or perhaps, better stated, the first round of the corporate-financed “fight,” took place in the mid ’90s, culminating in a legislative defeat by Gold-Coast/suburban-lackey GA members seeking to protect their Bridgeport, cheap-labor/regional waste-recycling assets (critical to the maintenance of their elite lifestyle/environs); the second round of the fight took place in the early 2000s in the form of the defeat of tribal recognition sought be would-be casino-developing, local tribes via the efforts of our Gold-Coast based federal Congressional delegation, accomplished for the same reasons as the first defeat, and under the same guise of moral and regional traffic issues with the booster issue of the “illegitimacy” of the would-be tribal developers. Only during this fight, the real issue of the loss of the Bridgeport workforce to casino-related jobs and the casino-related impediments to traffic movement/workforce importation by exclusive towns seeking to avoid the residential-social presence/expense of low-wage workers was revealed by Chris Bruhl, current president of the Fairfield County Chamber of Commerce, at an organizational breakfast- speech as president of forerunner organization, SACIA. The cat was out of the bag: the Bridgeport-casino archenemy Gold Coast had immoral, exploitative motives behind their casino resistance.
Now, we are in round three of the Bridgeport casino fight: this time the same anti-Bridgeport casino forces of rounds 2 and 3 have allies in the form of the present Indian Tribe monopoly on Connecticut casino development. This makes for a very powerful, well-financed opposition.
But it would seem that important political lessons have been learned during rounds 1 and 2. Now we know we have to be much more politically organized, by way of local organizing and in the selection and cultivation of key political alliances–with other cities and towns that could share in casino benefits with Bridgeport, as well as with organized labor; and, perhaps most importantly, Bridgeport has to be united and determined as a community to wage a very feisty legal and lobbying battle on our behalf, in conjunction with would-be Bridgeport casino developer MGM.
We have formed an alliance with New Haven and are reaching out to other municipalities and organized labor, but these efforts need to be thoroughly examined by way of a plan that makes certain Bridgeport has true allies and isn’t giving away too much by way of such alliances.
Likewise, in terms of what Bridgeport is gaining from the casino and relationship with MGM; we must take a close look at all aspects of that relationship and make certain we are demanding all we can possibly get from that relationship and that it presents as a long-term gain for us in all respects. (For instance, it seems we are coming up quite short on annual tax revenue when the projected real value of the development is considered with respect to our current mil-rate. No doubt this has something to do with the involvement of RCI and their ownership of the land on which the casino is to be located. Perhaps Bridgeport needs to look at negotiating a buy-back of that land from RCI.)
And we should also be looking at creating formal links between the casino and our other tourist attractions such that the presence of the casino enhances, rather than competes with these venues and downtown development. One important perk we might seek, in terms of casino-related enhancement of our overall, long-term economic development prospects, is perhaps MGM would want to finance the dredging and enhancement of our harbor for ocean-going vessels and related rail-freight accommodation, as well as picking up the tab for rail-passenger accommodation of non-local gambling/tourist traffic.
Let us make no mistake: Bridgeport, and Connecticut, have few viable choices of scale of economic development at this point in time other than a large-scale Bridgeport casino.
But there is truly no other location on the East Coast that presents as attractive and lucrative a location for a casino as Bridgeport. Bridgeport is in desperate straits, but we have proven to have endurance and mustn’t act out of desperation. We need a casino–nothing else is coming in a timely manner–but we still have great bargaining assets–natural and political. We must use them.
It is time for City Hall to organize and mobilize the Bridgeport population for a political dogfight. It is also time for the Mayor to collect a team of negotiators to work with MGM and our political allies for the best deal for Bridgeport–even it means seeking out competition for MGM, as well as even considering the use of eminent domain to secure the needed RCI property by way of a much more lucrative tax rate on casino property for Bridgeport than is apparently available under present ownership circumstances.
As desperate as we are–we are “casino” desperate–we still have options. There are plenty of casino players and plenty of lawyers to get a great deal for Bridgeport (even if it’s only a “casino” deal). But we must also keep in mind that this casino goal should be considered only a very preliminary goal on our way back to a truly prosperous Bridgeport.
So: the news of MGM’s overtures is terrific, much-needed good news, but it should also remind us of our assets and value even as it steels us for a political dogfight and hardball negotiations with our prospective political and casino business partners.
It is time for the Mayor to reach out to the public for help–and approval–in this regard.