Chris Powell: Time to open intrinsically corrupt casino business to competitive bidding

The Mohegan Sun casino, in Uncasville, Conn.    — Photo by JJBers

The Mohegan Sun casino, in Uncasville, Conn.

— Photo by JJBers



Connecticut's two casino Indian tribes complained last week to a General Assembly committee that their rival MGM, operator of the new casino just over the Massachusetts line in Springfield, had unfairly induced the U.S. Interior Department not to approve the tribes' plan for an "interceptor" casino just south of Springfield in East Windsor.

It sure looks like MGM is a little too well-connected with the Trump administration. But the tribes are laughably hypocritical to complain about someone else's political influence. For the casino duopoly the tribes enjoy in Connecticut is itself the result of the worst sort of political corruption.

In 1993 and 1994 Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. awarded the duopoly to the tribes and in return one of the tribes donated $2 million to a charity the governor chaired and controlled, the Special Olympics. Then the Special Olympics hired several of Weicker's assistants, giving them comfortable places to land as their administration ended. Since that crooked deal everyone else has been locked out of the casino business in Connecticut.

Built on licensing and government grants of monopoly that are seldom put out to bid, the casino business is the most politically corrupt in the country. Of course this nurtures arrogance, since from their testimony last week the tribes seem to resent that they're not the only ones who can buy and twist politicians, that their monopoly doesn't extend that far.

It's another reason to enact the bill proposed by Bridgeport legislators to open Connecticut's casino business to competitive bidding.

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CAN AIRPORT BE RENAMED?: Bradley International Airport, in Windsor Locks, has been improving because of the creation of the Connecticut Airport Authority to operate it independently of the state Transportation Department and because state government has put a lot more money into the airport, recognizing its potential for economic development.

Now the airport authority is thinking of changing the name of the airport to convey better its growing reach with more long-distance flights -- maybe something like "Southern New England International Airport" or, more candidly, "Avoid the New York and Boston Crush International Airport."

But the airport authority should note that an attempt to change Bradley's name back in 1981 was a disaster.

Gov. Ella T. Grasso, a Windsor Locks's native daughter, had just died, and her town's state representative, Cornelius P. O'Leary, suggested renaming the airport in her honor. Military veterans groups quickly objected, noting that the airport had been named for an Army Air Force fighter pilot, Lt. Eugene M. Bradley, who had been killed in a plane crash near the airport when it was an air base in 1941.

Windsor Locks's local newspaper, the Journal Inquirer, demolished the renaming idea when it located Bradley's widow in Texas and she visited Connecticut to assist the veterans. They greeted her triumphantly at the airport named for her late husband, and O'Leary, realizing he was beaten, graciously withdrew his proposal.

All Grasso got named after her in her hometown was a street and a conference room.

O'Leary moved up in politics anyway, becoming state senator and a state college dean, perhaps in part because he was politic enough to restrict to friends his brilliantly ironic insight about the airport affair: that, in remarrying, Lieutenant Bradley's widow had changed her name too.


Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.