- Associated Press - Sunday, May 3, 2015

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - While at least one community has already said no dice to hosting a proposed casino in northern Connecticut, others aren’t ruling it out.

They’re busy preparing for the possibility of the General Assembly passing legislation this session, authorizing up to three satellite casinos to be run by the state’s two federally recognized Indian tribes. The goal is to blunt out-of-state gambling competition and ultimately protecting jobs at Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort Casino.

“We certainly don’t want to rule ourselves out from a $300 million economic development project,” said Jason Bowsza, a selectman in East Windsor.

Denise Menard, the town’s first selectman, said she and her town planner started talking about possible locations when the Mashantucket Pequots and Mohegans announced their plans on March 10. The tribes’ top priority has been shoring up gamblers who might be lured away by the planned MGM Resorts casino, planned in nearby Springfield, Massachusetts. There are several vacant properties visible from I-91 in East Windsor, including a former movie theater, Wal-Mart and a wedding venue.

“We have sort of hit the ground running, with any kind of analysis any of us find,” Menard said. “We’re prepared if the legislation passes.”

She said town officials have pulled together information on everything from traffic issues to host-town agreements in other communities with casinos.

In East Hartford, local officials recently met with the tribes and a team of developers interested in locating the new casino at an old movie theater complex off I-84.

Meanwhile, at least one northern Connecticut community has already taken steps to remove itself from consideration.

In Windsor, the town council unanimously adopted a resolution opposing any legal gambling facilities in the community. The move came after local officials said they heard strong opposition to a casino among residents. In Enfield, the town council recently decided not to act on an identical resolution, and instead wait and see what happens with the legislation.

“There are just a lot of open questions,” said Enfield Mayor Scott Kaupin.

Matt Copler, Enfield’s town manager, said the town is open to having discussions but the project ultimately “has to be beneficial to the community.”

The tribes have said they don’t want to locate the casino in a community that doesn’t want it.

Besides municipalities taking action, another Connecticut gambling entity is reacting to the sudden possibility of a third casino.

Sportech Venues Inc. runs 15 pari-mutuel venues across Connecticut and a telephone betting service, employing a total of almost 400 people. Ted Taylor, the company’s president, said his firm prepared for a new casino in Massachusetts when it bought the company about four years ago and invested $4.5 million in the Windsor Locks facility, creating Bobby V’s Restaurant and Sports Bar.

“When we did that, I wasn’t envisioning anybody saying, ‘Oh, I’m going to do a 2,000-slot casino five miles down the road,” he said. “That is competition nobody was expecting.”

Taylor said Sportech has had discussions with the tribes about possibly locating their casino at the Windsor Locks location, which currently includes a 40,000-square-foot building and six acres of land, which would need to be expanded to accommodate the proposed tribal facility.

“There are ways that the tribes could use our facilities - land, buildings - in any scenario, that would allow them to create their new location,” said Taylor, adding that the site is four minutes from I-91. Besides the tribes, Taylor has been making this pitch to state lawmakers.

“We’ve got 400 employees in the state, invested a lot of money buying the business in the first place, improving our facilities. And our investment and our jobs are just as important as anyone else’s,” Taylor said. “Just because the casinos are considered a bigger organization doesn’t mean to say that they should have a preferential treatment when it comes to my employees and my business versus their employees.”

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