- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 25, 2015

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Connecticut’s two federally recognized tribes are asking communities interested in hosting a new casino near the Massachusetts border to move ahead with their local approval processes.

The leaders of the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday they want to ensure their proposed gambling facility is located in community that wants it.

“We want this to be something that will be accepted by the community where it ultimately lands in,” said Mohegan Tribal Chairman Kevin Brown. “We want this to be done the right way.”

MMCT Venture, a company created by the tribal owners of Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resorts Casinos, sent a letter Tuesday to elected officials in East Hartford, East Windsor, Hartford and Windsor Locks. Entities in those four communities submitted proposed locations earlier this month for consideration by the tribes. The tribes urged local officials to move ahead getting local approvals, offering to reimburse the cost of a local referendum vote.

Brown said staff are spending the next few weeks reviewing the submitted proposals, doing “internal due diligence” to determine the best location. While the tribes have said they hope to make a decision on a site by Dec. 15, the two tribal chairmen said Wednesday they can be flexible with that date, considering some sites are further along the approval process than others.

Ultimately, however, the tribes hope to have a potential location ready in time for the new legislative session.

The General Assembly, which ultimately needs to approve a third casino in Connecticut, is scheduled to meet in its next regular session in February.

The tribes have proposed building a jointly run casino to combat competition from a planned casino in nearby Springfield, Massachusetts. MGM Resorts International hopes to open a now-$950 million downtown casino, hotel and entertainment complex in the fall of 2018, a year later than initially hoped.

Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Chairman Rodney Butler said delays affecting MGM’s progress provides the tribes with “the opportunity to open up sooner, prior to their opening.”

It’s unclear how long it will take to secure the local approvals of the submitted sites. East Hartford’s Planning and Zoning Commission already approved a special permit, allowing the former Showcase Cinemas property to be used for a casino. On Oct. 20, the town council voted 7-1 to authorize the mayor to submit a proposal to the tribes for consideration.

On Tuesday night, the newly elected Windsor Locks Board of Selectmen was sworn into office and tentatively scheduled a Dec. 15 public hearing to discuss hosting a casino in that community. The Connecticut Airport Authority and Sportech Venues submitted proposals to the tribes. Ultimately a town-wide referendum would be required.

In East Windsor, First Selectman Robert Maynard said his town is anxious to move ahead with the selection process. Maynard said he sees the new casino as a potential boon to the community’s coffers.

“If they want us to move forward with a referendum, we’ll do it,” Maynard said of the tribes.

No specific site has been offered yet for Hartford. The outgoing Mayor Pedro Segarra said he wanted to keep the option of a casino in Hartford open for the new mayor, Luke Bronin.

While the tribes are still in the early vetting process, Butler said “there are certainly potential sites among the few we’ve seen.”

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