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Monday, December 18 Local

Tribes want to build Bridgeport casino: MGM: ‘We’ve got the best site’

It took longer than some people expected, but the casino-operating Native American tribes now say they want in on the action in Bridgeport.

The tribes say they should be part of any discussion on a casino in Bridgeport if the state were to move in that direction. In a letter to legislative leaders, the two tribal chairmen did not mention MGM by name -- but they’re reacting to MGM’s proposal for a $675 million casino resort on Bridgeport Harbor, announced Sept. 18.

The letter, apparently timed to coincide with a flurry of lobbying and a visit to Bridgeport Tuesday night by MGM CEO Jim Murren, throws the question of a Bridgeport casino into a full-scale battle that could dominate the state’s political scene in 2018, along with the election.

It also acknowledges that the tribes, working jointly as MMCT, take seriously the threat of an MGM Bridgeport project. Until now, MMCT has publicly portrayed the MGM plan as a stunt that isn’t likely to happen because, they say, it can’t win state approval.

For their part, executives at MGM say the tribes or any other developer can enter the competition in Bridgeport, but they’ll have to find a site that can compete with the one on the harbor. Aside from controlling the best site - right off I-95, directly across the harbor from downtown - MGM already has the strong support of the cities of Bridgeport and New Haven.

“All comers are welcome. We’ve got the best site,” said Uri Clinton, senior vice president of MGM. “If someone else wanted to...make a proposal they’d have to have some deal with someone else who has land.

The tribes have on their side of the argument an agreement between the state and the tribes, dating to 1993, under which the tribes send Connecticut 25 percent of slot machine revenues in exchange for the exclusive right to operate slots in the state.

The tribal chairmen reminded legislative leaders that the compact, as it’s known, has yielded $7 billion for the state. They didn’t say the take is shrinking as competition rises in adjacent states, and is expected to fall below $200 million a year after MGM Springfield opens next fall.

MGM says the state would be better off backing that plan and the revenues it would generate than staying with the tribes, as the annual state take from the tribes has fallen from a peak of $430 million in 2007 to $265 million last year.

The tribal chairmen, Rodney Butler of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and Kevin Brown of the Mohegan Tribe, appealed to the long, shared history between them and the state.

"For​ ​more​ ​than​ ​two​ ​decades,​ ​our​ ​two​ ​tribes​ ​and​ ​the​ ​state​ ​of​ ​Connecticut​ ​have​ ​forged​ ​a mutually​ ​beneficial​ ​partnership," the chairmen said, adding that they are "moving forward" with their approved, midsize casino in East Windsor, which the state approved as a way to pick off customers heading to MGM Springfield. There has been no public sign of progress in East Windsor so far.

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And the chairmen reminded the leaders that they originally wanted approval for three commercial casinos, one in the Danbury area, one in Fairfield County along the shoreline and one in the Hartford area.

​"If​ ​circumstances​ ​have​ ​changed​ ​and​ ​there​ ​is​ ​now​ ​real​ ​interest​ ​in​ ​putting​ ​a​ ​casino in​ ​Bridgeport,​ ​we​ ​want​ ​to​ ​be​ ​a​ ​part​ ​of​ ​that​ ​discussion," the letter said.

The letter from came alongside a new agreement between Mohegan Sun and the Webster Bank Arena for some events.

Dan Haar|Columnist and Associate Editor

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