Connecticut Casinos’ Desperation

It doesn’t take an academic study to realize that the Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods casinos are hurting. Slot revenue is down which means revenue flowing to the state—25 percent of the tribes’ slots—is down which means politicians are panicking. Add the fact that Massachusetts resort casinos in-the-making will take a big bite out of Connecticut gaming and you have ideas being floated ranging from the odd (opening yet another gaming facility in Connecticut) to the absurd (allowing existing casinos to sell the hippie lettuce).

We would all be wise to start thinking rationally about how to deal with less casino revenue in Connecticut. The tribes see the writing on the wall. Even before the Great Recession, gaming revenue began to fall and there is no indication the trend will turn.

Whacky ideas started to surface after Nov. 5 when Massachusetts voters soundly defeated a ballot referendum that would have repealed the state’s casino law. With that vote, work that was already well underway in the Boston and Springfield areas got the go ahead. Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods draw a hefty portion of its customers from the Bay State.

The idea of a third Connecticut casino is backed by state Rep. Peggy Sayers (D-Windsor) who doesn’t want state residents pouring over the state line to Springfield where a mammoth MGM Grand casino is being built. Sayers has the brilliant idea of possibly having a third gaming facility possibly at Bradley Airport where the tele-theatre is located. “We have studied this issue, we have years of experience working with the gaming resorts here, and we are ready to take action,” Sayers said in a statement. “Connecticut has been a leader in the region, and we are in the best possible position to compete.”

It’s a very bad idea. Simple logic tells us that at best, a Bradley gaming operation can help stop some of the loss of state gamblers north to Springfield. At the same time, there is a finite gambling base. A third Connecticut casino would also draw away from the casinos in Eastern Connecticut. Think Foxwoods and Mohegan are hurting now? Put another casino in Connecticut and three in Massachusetts and watch the slot (and other) revenue dry up faster than an unwatered pot plant, which of course was the next bad idea.

The tribes want to look into the possibility of growing and selling marijuana on tribal lands. Nothing says “rain maker” like a plan to have a casino full of gambling stoners. Sure, concessions would increase exponentially and they may reach the Rasta demographic but do we really want to let the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequots sell ganja?

 

As with many bad ideas, this one was egged on by the federal government. The Justice Department is saying that it will not enforce laws governing the use of marijuana grown on federally recognized tribal land. In other words, pass the Dutchie on your land if you want to, we won’t bother you.

The idea of being able to grow and sell pot is red meat to the revenue-challenged tribes. “On the point of marijuana as a potential economic opportunity, [Mohegan Tribal Council Chairman Kevin] Brown and the Mohegan Tribal Council have been very clear that they are looking at numerous opportunities to diversify into new emerging markets and products that promise to sustain their government for years to come,” the Mohegan Tribe’s chief of staff for external affairs, Charles F. Bunnell, said in a statement quoted in a Hartford Courant article.

“They have been equally clear that these new opportunities not jeopardize the significant investments they have already made into a highly regulated industry,” Bunnell said. “This new information is being reviewed in that context.” Blah, blah, blah, we want to sell the chronic.

One might also conclude that the Mohegans and Mashantucket Pequots have something to hide. The Shad tried repeatedly over the course of three weeks to speak to a tribe representative (even going through their lobbyists) to no avail. Not exactly model p.r. operations there.

It would be wise to step back and learn how to deal with less casino revenue rather than implement really bad ideas that will just make things worse.