Three months after announcing plans for a $675 million casino and entertainment complex in Bridgeport, the chief executive of MGM Resorts International Tuesday night pushed to build support among the area's business community for crucial legislation necessary to turn the project into reality.
Speaking to the Bridgeport Regional Business Council, MGM Resorts CEO James Murren called for an overhaul of the decades-old agreements that give the tribal operators of Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun the exclusive right to operate slot machines in Connecticut. Those agreements return to the state a 25-percent share of slot revenue each month, an amount that has declined in recent years.
"I'm just saying that what worked 25 years ago should be revisited today for the benefit of the entire state," Murren said, noting that he was not against tribal gaming but recommends a fresh look at the industry.
MGM would need the backing of state lawmakers for its planned 2,000 slot machines, 160 gaming tables, a 700-seat theater, a 300-room hotel, plus retail and restaurant space. Securing legislative support would mean violating the slot agreements that exist with the state, but MGM says the change could bring more revenue.
In this year's regular legislative session, lawmakers voted to expand casino gaming off tribal reservations -- opening the door to commercial casino gambling in Connecticut.
The expansion was focused on a "satellite" casino which would be jointly run by the two tribes as a way to preserve revenue coming to the state and jobs tied to the gaming industry in the face of the approaching opening of MGM's casino and entertainment complex in Springfield.
"What would it do for the state if the state of Connecticut would modernize its gaming profile?" Murren said. "That is a question you should all ask yourselves. If the state of Connecticut concludes that it wants to participate in commercial gaming, which was the conclusion in Hartford, wouldn't you want to do it in a state-of-the-art way?"
Murren said the state has seen a "precipitous decline" in the revenues from Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, which once peaked at $430 million a year and now is about $270 million and on its way to $175 million.
Murren said the state should consider another alternative to the East Windsor casino and took a shot at the plans by the tribes.
"I'm looking for widespread economic development in Bridgeport, not a box of slots, not a casino, but a resort development that will stimulate tourism to your state, activate multiple industries and weave together the already beautiful tapestry of arts, entertainment, retail, culture that already exists." Murren said.
MGM's critics say the gaming giant's opposition to East Windsor is rooted in the competitive threat it poses to MGM's complex in Springfield, which will depend partly on gamblers from Connecticut.
Murren, a native of Bridgeport and a graduate of Trinity College, pushed his local roots noting that his mother -- among the audience of 375 Tuesday night at the Trumbull Marriott -- still lives in Bridgeport. He noted that he intended to keep his promise to build in Bridgeport, if state legislators would back a change in Connecticut's gaming laws.
"I've made a lot of promises in my career at MGM, promises to the city of Detroit, which I've kept for over a decade, and promises in Maryland, which I've kept," Murren said. "I've made promises to the city of Springfield, which I am keeping, and I want to make promises to you and everyone in the state of Connecticut, which I intend to keep."