Casino gambling could make an argument in Connecticut a few decades ago when itcould prey on more people from out of state than on the state's own residents. That is no longer the case, with casinos opening in neighboring states andthroughout the Northeast and with one soon to open in Massachusetts just overthe border in Springfield.
Indeed, the "interceptor" casino now being proposed by Connecticut's twocasino-operating Indian tribes would prey exclusively on the state's ownresidents, diverting some of them from heading north on Interstate 91 to thecasino planned by MGM Resorts.
With the "interceptor" casino the tribes would preserve the monopoly stategovernment has given them on casinos in Connecticut. The tribes would pay newgambling royalties to the state and millions in property taxes to East Windsor, whose town government is supportive and where the tribes have secured land alongthe highway.
The tribes say the "interceptor" casino will reduce the gambling revenueConnecticut loses to Springfield and preserve hundreds of jobs in the state. More likely the casino will create a few hundred jobs and relocate hundreds morefrom the two Indian casinos in southeastern Connecticut as gambling trafficturns north.
There are a couple of problems with this plan. The first is that the pathologies of the increased gambling will be borneentirely by Connecticut itself -- the addiction, the theft and theconcentration of wealth, its transfer from the public to the government and thetribes and the weakening of nearby businesses.
The second is that if casino gambling is to become pervasive, and not a specialthing in special places -- first Las Vegas, then Atlantic City, thensoutheastern Connecticut, then Indian reservations throughout the country, andsoon nearly everywhere -- why should Connecticut let any group monopolize it? That is, for casino purposes, who needs Indians anymore? (Really, who ever did?)
As New London Day columnist David Collins writes, last week the general counselof MGM Resorts, Uri Clinton, told a General Assembly committee that his companywill pay Massachusetts and Springfield far more for its casino rights thanConnecticut's Indian tribes are paying state government. That is, stategovernment continues to sell itself short for the benefit of the tribes.
The MGM Resorts executive also noted that if it really wants to compete withcasinos in other states, Connecticut is forfeiting its most lucrativeopportunity, which is not near the Massachusetts line but in Fairfield County, since a casino in Bridgeport, rejected years ago, might draw heavily from theNew York metropolitan area.
Indeed, instead of opening a mere "interceptor" casino near Massachusetts, whynot open a full-fledged casino, entertainment, and sports venue in thenorth-central part of the state?
After all, Connecticut just happens to have a bankrupt capital city whosedowntown is adjacent to both a big arena whose expensive renovations stategovernment can't afford and a new minor-league baseball stadium the city can'tafford. If such a venue could be competently operated, it might overshadow MGM'soperation in Springfield and push some of the burden of gambling's pathologiesback out of state.
Instead of increasing gambling, it would be far better for state government toeconomize by questioning the premises of its most expensive, mistaken, andfailing policies -- government labor contracting, welfare and child protection, and education. But that would require more political courage than Connecticut has musteredsince the Civil War. If it can't bring itself to stand up to a few rent-seekingIndians, state government will never stand up to anyone else.
Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.