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Enfield still in play as location for additional Connecticut casino

Date: 10/8/2015

ENFIELD – The Connecticut-based Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority recently released a request for proposal (RFP) to establish a joint-venture tribal gaming facility north of Hartford, near the border of Western Massachusetts.

With the possibility of that casino being built in the Enfield Square Mall, Enfield Acting Town Manager Lee Erdmann said a community conversation was hosted on Oct. 1 to gain feedback from residents. Most townspeople spoke out against a casino in Enfield.

“There was recognition by most, if not all, of the speakers that the Enfield Square Mall needs a shot in the arm, but most of the speakers were not in favor of a casino as being in the shot in the arm for Enfield,” he added.

The RFP states that interested municipalities must respond to the newly formed entity, MCCT Venture, a joint company established by the tribes, by 4 p.m. on Nov. 6. The RFP requires information such as government structure, services, zoning permits, inland and wetland permits, and types of taxes. MCCT Venture is anticipated to make its decision on Dec. 15.

A municipality partnered with MCCT Venture must also be “committed to the protection and preservation of Connecticut jobs” at the proposed 500,000-square-foot casino that could service 10,000 daily customers.

In July, MGM International President Bill Hornbuckle filed a lawsuit against the state of Connecticut over preferential treatment given to the Connecticut tribes. MGM applied for a casino license, but was rejected. MGM plans to build a casino in Springfield, which could compete with one north of Hartford County.

The lawsuit asserts the recently approved gaming act, which allows the tribes to seek an additional license, is unconstitutional.     

Erdmann said the decision to respond to the RFP would likely take place by the town council sometime this month.

He added that representatives from the Enfield Square Mall stated that they need “a game changer” in the mall.

Erdmann said Bob Steiner of Madison Marquette, which owns the Enfield mall, stated that the “economic reality is that we have to adapt or shrink away.” Since 1971, the Enfield Square has been the center of the community, however extensive growth of regional shopping centers has occurred during the last several decades. This competition has contributed to that adapt or shrink mentality.

“Leasing a loan will not change the economic reality,” Erdmann said.  

It remains uncertain whether Massachusetts communities neighboring Enfield would be able to obtain mitigation money from the state of Connecticut. Enfield applied to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to be named a surrounding community to the MGM Springfield casino, but was denied.

Longmeadow’s $4.4 million surrounding community agreement includes 13 yearly payments of $275,000, plus a 2.5 percent annual increase.

Longmeadow Town Manager Stephen Crane said the town’s main concerning regarding a potential Enfield casino is whether MGM would seek to amend the surrounding community agreement.

“We don’t know if there would be any impact or if there is an impact, what the extent of it would be?” he added. “The second thing is the same concerns that we had about a casino in Springfield, we certainly have about a casino in Enfield.”

Crane said the impacts of an Enfield casino could be on par with MGM Springfield.

“In theory, having two casinos that close together would have a negative impact on traffic in Longmeadow, but I would need to see what they’re proposing,” he added. “Part of me hopes that this is just saber rattling on the part of Connecticut. To put in what would amount to a slots parlor in a mall is not going to harm a full scale resort-destination casino.”

Longmeadow Selectman Alex Grant, a member of the citizens group No Casino Springfield, said he’s concerned about the negative social ills that a potential Enfield casino would bring such as gambling addiction.

“That really would be the nightmare scenario if we had two casinos,” he added. “I think there’s a good chance, if there is an Enfield or Windsor casino, that we may not see a Springfield casino ... Maybe the threat of one against the other would defer both of them and we go back to the status quo, which would be the best scenario.”

Crane said representatives from the Massachusetts Gaming Commission have not contacted the town about this issue, nor have any other state officials. Right now, the town is in “wait and see” mode.

East Longmeadow Board of Selectmen Chair Paul Federici said he doesn’t believe a casino in northern Connecticut would impact his town greatly. He noted that most of traffic that would be generated by a potential Enfield casino would be on Interstate 91.

“Other than that, I don’t know how it’ll affect East Longmeadow,” he added.

East Longmeadow Selectman Angela Thorpe, who was involved in the negotiation of her town’s surrounding community agreement, did not respond to a request for comment prior to press time.