The chief executive officer of MGM Resorts International courted a business audience Tuesday night, asking they join him in lobbying the General Assembly next year for legislation ending the gaming monopoly enjoyed by two Indian tribes and allowing MGM to provide Bridgeport with the “life-changing opportunity” of a waterfront casino.
“This could be one of my crowning achievements,” said James Murren, the CEO and chairman of MGM. He played up his local roots, mentioning his birth at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Bridgeport and nodding to his mother, Jean, and other family members seated at a table in the sold-out annual dinner of the Bridgeport Regional Business Council.
His tribal gaming competitors, the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribal nations, launched a pre-emptive digital advertising campaign hours earlier, the harbinger of yet another debate at the State Capitol of Connecticut’s willingness to compete for gamblers’ dollars with New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
Murren said MGM is game for a long slog, ready to make the case that Connecticut must either expand gaming or accept that its slots revenues from Foxwoods Resort and Mohegan Sun will continue to slide. From a high of $430 million in 2007, they fell to $265 million last year and are projected to keep shrinking.
In September, MGM unveiled plans for a casino on the Bridgeport waterfront at a press conference attended by legislators, Mayors Joseph P. Ganim of Bridgeport and Toni Harp of New Haven, union members and a local partner who owns the site, Robert W. Christophe.
The tribes won a major victory over MGM three months earlier, winning legislation allowing them to jointly develop a casino off I-91 in the Hartford suburb of East Windsor. It is to blunt the loss of business to the MGM resort scheduled to open next year over the state line in nearby Springfield.
But the East Windsor project has been stalled by the refusal of the Bureau of Indian Affairs to act on amendments to their gaming compacts with Connecticut. The state’s approval is contingent on BIA’s acceptance of the amendments, which would guarantee that the new casino off tribal lands would not jeopardize a deal struck in 1993.