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'We Seem To Be An Afterthought': East Windsor Gets Dealt Out Of Gaming Agreement

Frankie Graziano
Connecticut Public
This file photo shows a movie theater being demolished in East Windsor in 2018 to make way for the state's third casino. But the casino isn't up yet -- and is on hold as part of new agreement between the state and two tribal nations.

East Windsor town officials want to know why the future of their casino project is being shoehorned into sports betting legislation.

The recent landmark gaming deal between the governor’s office and the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribal nations included a provision to halt construction of the proposed Tribal Winds Casino in East Windsor.

The Mashantucket Pequots and Mohegans formed a partnership a few years back to build a $300 million casino in East Windsor that was supposed to be the first in the state off tribal land and a direct challenge to MGM’s Springfield casino.

But now it might not happen. Jason Bowsza, East Windsor’s first selectman, sees the abandoning of this project as a “sweetener” for the state.

“We seem to be the afterthought of this whole discussion where, in conversations with the administration and conversations with each of the two tribes, what we get is no commitments about anything,” Bowsza said. “So, it’s very difficult to see a bright side for the town of East Windsor here.”

Gov. Ned Lamont always saw a sports betting deal as one part of what he’s called a “global gaming resolution.” Putting the East Windsor project on ice makes him less vulnerable to a lawsuit from MGM. But where do the people of East Windsor fit into this resolution?

“East Windsor as I understand was not a big piece of the negotiations that we’re working on here, but I know there’s some land -- we’ll see what the future of that is,” Lamont said recently. “But I care deeply about making sure that the town prospers going forward.”

The other big question is what happens to that prime piece of land, which is right off I-91.

“Holding that property undeveloped for an undetermined number of years moving forward is absolutely not in the best interest of the town of East Windsor,” Bowsza said.

The chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe said the way the deal is written, a casino could be built in East Windsor 10 years from now.

“Essentially, it’s a 15-year deal. At the end of that first 10 is when the restriction on East Windsor is lifted,” said Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation. “And then, we would move forward at that point.”

James Gessner Jr., the chairman of the Mohegan Tribal Council, wouldn’t rule out something else going in there first.

“I don’t think it’s something that we’re against, but I think it’s something we can figure out for the town of East Windsor,” Gessner said.

As it stands now, the town is already down $50,000 in tax revenue it used to get with a closed-down Showcase Cinemas inhabiting the space. And then, there’s unrealized revenue, including an anticipated $5.5 million in property taxes the first five years the casino was supposed to be in business, along with $3 million in public safety dollars the tribes promised to give the town every year it was open.

It’s all serious dough for a town with a $40 million budget.

Frankie Graziano is the host of The Wheelhouse, focusing on how local and national politics impact the people of Connecticut.

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