Tribal Casinos Competition

Written By Janice Doughtrey

One would think that groups of people that had suffered centuries of persecution and discrimination would be natural allies. And in some cases perhaps they would be, but when it comes to the highly lucrative casino industry, all bets are off. The “sovereign nation” status of officially recognized “Indian” tribes in the United States has allowed them to build casinos on tribal land free of restrictions that would normally apply.

As a result over the last several decades, there has been an explosion both in applications for recognition as officially recognized Native American tribes and permits to expand gambling venues beyond tribal lands. Doing so means that Native American casino operators must deal with restrictions that they haven’t had to in the past. It also means that they are finding themselves in competition with other casino developers for limited properties, both Native American and otherwise.

In much of the eastern United States especially in its New England region, casino gambling has made a comeback due to successful tribal gambling. A good case in point is southern Connecticut. Several decades ago a Native American tribe opened the Foxwoods Casino and Resort, which was a phenomenal success. It not only made all tribe members millionaires, it created a number of jobs and revenue in that part of the state, in addition to adding considerably to the state’s coffers. The Mohegan Sun Casino and Resort created a decade later had a similar success. However, resort-style gambling has become less popular in recent years while the popularity of smaller slots game oriented ones has increased exponentially. To stay competitive, Native American tribes want to build smaller “satellite” casinos and they want to put them where they’re more convenient for potential players off tribal lands and closer to interstate corridors.

The Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes (owners of the Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos respectively) recently petitioned the Connecticut state legislature for exclusive permission to develop such a smaller casino on a parcel of land on the Connecticut/Massachusetts state border. The creation of such a casino its developers claim, would stem the current loss of jobs and revenue from existing casinos and compete with an in-progress MGM Grand casino/resort that has been approved for construction in Springfield, Massachusetts. Two Connecticut legislators have agreed to support this request, and to that end have drafted and submitted a bill for approval to the state legislature. The bill has been approved by the state Senate. However, it has stalled in the House of Representatives. Among concerns of members, there is a lack of competition, conflict with existing off-track betting venues, and creating too many gambling options.

Experts estimate that this political foot-dragging could cause delays of two to five years before this bill is passed. MGM Grand casino developers and a local non-recognized tribe are also threatening lawsuits if this exclusive casino rights bill is passed. But given the endorsement of the state’s governor and Washington D.C.’s Bureau of Indian Affairs for this project, despite this bill’s challenges in getting passed most observers feel that it will ultimately prevail.