POWELL: Gambling expansion plan could be worse, or better

Published on Monday, 8 March 2021 20:57
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By CHRIS POWELL

Gambling and intoxicating drugs mainly transfer wealth from the many to the few and the poor to the rich, so it is sad that state government is striving to get into the business of sports betting, internet gambling, and marijuana dealing. That's how hungry state government always is for more money.

Even so, Governor Lamont may deserve some credit for the deal he seems about to achieve with Connecticut's two casino Indian tribes. The tribes long have claimed that the casino gambling duopoly state government conferred on them in the 1990s also gives them exclusivity on sports betting and internet gambling in the state.

Under the governor's plan the tribes drop their claim to exclusivity and share the sports betting and internet gambling business with state government via the Connecticut Lottery. The Mohegan tribe has fully accepted the plan while the Mashantucket Pequot tribe appears to have yielded on exclusivity and to be quibbling only about a percentage point or two in taxes.

So Connecticut may be glad that this much of its sovereignty would be recognized and that the governor didn't give the store away.

But just as this outcome could be worse, it could be better too. For state government has shown no interest in inquiring whether it really needs the Indian tribal duopoly to run casinos - inquiring whether the casino exclusivity the state has conferred on the tribes in exchange for 25 percent of their slot machine revenue reflects the full value of the state's grant of duopoly.

After all, the duopoly has never been put out to bid. Would other enterprises pay the state more for the privilege of operating casinos and sports betting parlors in, say, Bridgeport, New Haven, and Hartford, locations far closer to heavily populated areas than the Indian properties in southeastern Connecticut's woods? Casino operators in those cities, much closer to more gamblers, might gladly pay state government more than 25 percent of their slot machine take, or their 25 percent tribute might produce more money because they had more customers.

This potential for greater revenue is implied by the complaint of Sportstech, operator of the state-licensed horse and greyhound racing and jai alai betting parlors throughout Connecticut. The company is threatening to sue the state because it hasn't been invited into the gambling expansion plan with the casino Indians. No other potential operators seem to have been solicited either.

So the governor's plan will preserve gambling in Connecticut as a business for privileged insiders - the two tribes, which have come to control enough legislators in their part of the state to block state government from following the ordinary good business practice of soliciting bids.

The gambling situation in Connecticut is not just essentially corrupt but ridiculous as well, as indicated by the crack taken last week at the Mohegans by the chairman of the Mashantucket Pequots, Rodney Butler, who was sore that the Mohegans didn't wait for the Pequots before agreeing to the governor's plan. "It opened up wounds between our tribal nations that go back centuries," Butler said, referring to the alliance of the Mohegans with the English colonists in the war with the Pequots nearly 400 years ago.

Can ethnic hatreds really endure that long when the ethnicities have been so absorbed by the larger culture? Can a distant descendant of Chief Sassacus and a distant descendant of Chief Uncas really resent each other after their intermediary generations have lived in raised ranches and worked at Electric Boat like nearly everyone else where the tribes of old lived? Aren't these people with tiny fractions of Indian descent more likely to dispute each other over the Yankees and the Red Sox or Biden and Trump?

Or is the revival of the Pequot War just a pathetically opportunistic defense of lucrative privilege?

Connecticut is full of people who are suffering serious disadvantages arising from all sorts of things that were not their fault, disadvantages far greater than a tiny bit of relation to the tribes of old. Indeed, for decades that relation has been no disadvantage to anyone. State government offers these truly disadvantaged people nothing special.

While some of them soon may be given marijuana-dealing licenses, if Connecticut were to be run on ethnicity, they would deserve casinos far more than the people who have them now.

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.



Posted in The Bristol Press, Column, Editorials on Monday, 8 March 2021 20:57. Updated: Monday, 8 March 2021 20:59.