As the Connecticut General Assembly prepares to convene this week, Bridgeport State House members Chris Rosario and Ezequiel Santiago assert that the process to review casino expansion in the state to address the new MGM casino in Springfield, Massachusetts is a “sham” shrouded in secrecy.
If Connecticut is serious about opening its first commercial casino, there is no denying why a competitive, fair, open and transparent process–precisely the opposite of what we’ve seen so far–is in the best interest of the state and our taxpayers.
Two key benefits resulting from a better process that have not received enough attention: the state’s ability to ensure jobs for Connecticut’s diverse and local populations, and making certain that communities that host a casino in their town receive tangible benefits.
In a transparent process run by the state, potential casino developers present comprehensive proposals that spell out the hiring process and how area towns will benefit. It is the polar opposite of the unreliable, unpredictable, and unfair sham of a process now underway.
In an open, competitive process, the state–and the public–would evaluate competing proposals from world-class developers that would include plans for hiring during all phases of construction and when the casino begins operations. Proposals outline precisely the dollars that would be paid not only to the state, but to the host community and adjacent municipalities as well.
Without requiring each competitor to propose a detailed plan for hiring, Connecticut misses a golden opportunity to assure that local residents, women, minorities, and veterans are hired. In a state where good jobs–and good paying jobs–remain extremely hard to come by, these commitments are vital to our economy.
We need only look just over the state line to Massachusetts to see how a competitive process can make a significant difference, not only for the state and local communities, but for people seeking employment today, and potentially satisfying and rewarding careers for years that follow.
Massachusetts legislators were committed to creating opportunities for local and diverse businesses when they passed the Expanded Gaming Act. Casino developers MGM, Wynn, and Penn National are required to submit strategic plans for utilizing minority-owned, women-owned, veteran-owned business to participate as contractors–from planning and construction to operation. More significantly, each casino developer has made agreements to promote local businesses, entertainment venues, and retail outlets within their host communities. Benefits from expanded gaming should be shared by the entire community.
Not far away in Springfield, MGM is exceeding the state’s requirements. Once open, half of the casino’s employees will be women, half will be minorities, and a third will be local residents.
Local communities also benefit tremendously in a competitive process, and the selected developer is held accountable for promises made. In Massachusetts, upon receipt of a gaming license, Casino developers not only paid a one-time licensing fee of $85 million to the state, but also made one-time mitigation payments to surrounding and host communities.
Why can’t Connecticut strike a deal that good, or better? Because the state isn’t even involved in the selection process. The Legislature turned over control to a private entity and critical components of the process–including hiring and community mitigation payments–are shrouded in mystery.
The solution is simple. Connecticut needs to reset–scrap the current privately-run and secretive effort to venture into the commercial casino business, and start from scratch with a state-led, transparent process–ensuring policy makers and the public can determine where the best location would be if there is to be a commercial casino in Connecticut.
As legislators representing a city with an unemployment rate of 6.0 percent last month, compared with a state rate of 3.7 percent (more than 4,000 people in Bridgeport unemployed, according to the State Labor Department), and a tax base in desperate need of sustained growth, we recognize that attracting new industries is essential. That is why considering the possibility of a commercial casino, allowing Bridgeport and neighboring communities an opportunity to evaluate competing development proposals, is the best way to decide if it is the right move for the city, the region and the state.
We need to establish a process in which competing potential casino operators are required to outline their plans in painstaking detail–so that we can determine, as a state, the best deal for all of us–taxpayers, communities and workers alike.