Connecticut tribal casinos gear up for Wynn, MGM competition

Updated September 2, 2018 - 5:34 pm

HARTFORD, Conn. — At Bradley International, the airport serving Hartford, Connecticut, MGM Resorts International had a banner asking travelers if they would rather go to a resort in the middle of town or in the middle of nowhere.

It was an obvious dig at Connecticut’s two dominant tribal casinos, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation’s Foxwoods Resort and Casino and the Mohegan Indian Tribe’s Mohegan Sun, both on forested reservation land in the southeastern part of the state.

MGM Springfield, in the middle of Springfield, Massachusetts, opened its doors Aug. 24 to rave reviews and overflow crowds. Meanwhile, Wynn Resorts Ltd.’s Encore Boston Harbor is scheduled to open in June.

It’s too early to tell how MGM’s opening will affect customer traffic at the massive tribal resorts, but it’s clearly game on for a new era of casino competition in New England.

Ray Pineault, president and general manager of Mohegan Sun, said new competition is nothing new.

‘Preparing for this for years’

“We’ve been preparing for this for years. We understand the MGMs and Wynns are coming to Massachusetts and they’re looking to get into this New England market because it’s been such a successful market,” he said.

Pineault said the Mohegan Sun has weathered new competition from upstate New York since February, when Resorts World Catskills opened with 2,150 slot machines and 150 table games in Monticello. Resorts World already had a 5,000-slot parlor at Aqueduct Race Track in Queens near John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Also, “New Jersey has always been very competitive for us, and obviously Pennsylvania opened up with all their casinos,” Pineault said.

Massachusetts’ only other casino, a slots-only parlor at Plainridge Park harness racing track, opened in 2015.

To Massachusetts Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby, the new casinos represent the potential for wresting away revenue he believes belongs in Massachusetts.

“The evidence suggests if we did nothing else in Massachusetts but bring back (money that was) being gambled in casinos outside Massachusetts by our citizens and that alone would make it a success,” Crosby said. “We would have $250 million in tax revenue just by bringing back those citizens.”

More at stake

A Las Vegas gaming industry analyst believes there’s more at stake for MGM in the completion of MGM Springfield and the company’s competition with the tribes.

John DeCree of Las Vegas-based Union Gaming said MGM’s decision to blend the $960 million resort into the fabric of downtown Springfield sets the stage for future projects on the other side of the world.

“We spent several days in Springfield ahead of the opening, touring the new facility and getting a sense for local expectations,” DeCree said in an Aug. 27 report to investors.

“Two things were apparent. First, local residents are truly proud of the development; and second, MGM’s design and development team just gave the company a big boost in the race for licenses in new jurisdictions like Japan. The meticulous attention to detail, unique integration of local history, and success in restoring key historical landmarks like the 130-year old First Spiritualist Church and 123-year old State Armory, won’t go unnoticed by new jurisdictions considering MGM for new gaming and (integrated resorts) licenses.”

MGM relocated the historic church and armory to be a part of the four-block MGM Springfield campus. An estimated 15,000 people a day visited the new casino in the first weekend days after the opening.

Meanwhile, Connecticut’s tribal casinos are trying to counterpunch MGM’s new resort by partnering with each other on a new slot parlor in East Windsor, Connecticut, about 13 miles south of Springfield. The proposal is tied up in a federal court case involving the tribes, the state and the U.S. Department of Interior.

Rhode Island casino

And the competition continues to grow.

The Tiverton Casino Hotel, a 1,000-slot-machine, 32-table-game tribal casino in Rhode Island, 500 feet from the Massachusetts border, had its ribbon-cutting ceremony.

And then, there’s Encore Boston Harbor looming on the horizon. The battle for market share will be well- established by the time it arrives.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.

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