Longevity provides perspective, and I’ve been in Connecticut long enough to recognize when the status quo will no longer serve us well.
Nearly three decades ago, when casino gambling came to Connecticut in a negotiated settlement between a governor and a newly federally recognized tribe, Bridgeport was in contention as a casino location. I did not support the idea.
At the time, I thought there would be better options for the tremendously well-positioned property that was being considered. Sitting along the I-95 corridor, with Long Island Sound as an alluring backdrop, a casino did not seem to be as good as we could get.
With the benefit of hindsight, and more than 28 years, I’ve changed my view. If one of the world’s most respected entertainment companies wants to spend three quarters of a billion dollars in Bridgeport, create jobs, boost economic development and eliminate blight, we should let them.
That’s particularly true if taxpayers aren’t footing any of the bill but will reap significant tax income to the state as well as Bridgeport, which is precisely what MGM, quite specifically, has proposed. We have seen too many times in Connecticut that the state bends over backwards to lure companies to come here or stay here, offering a dizzying array of tax benefits and incentives, only to see the results fall short or disintegrate completely.
Government should not be in the hand-out business — we should be in the welcome mat business.
We should welcome companies that are intent on providing jobs, building business relationships for local vendors and serving as an economic catalyst. We should welcome major investments whose benefits can ignite or accelerate a transformation that will energize communities and assist families in dire need of real, honest-to-goodness opportunities.
Through the years, Connecticut has been notorious for creating monopolies. I believe in two fundamentals: first, nothing lasts forever; and second, competition benefits everyone. I don’t doubt the sincerity of those who say that the Tribes have had a wonderful relationship with the state. Certainly, the benefits have gone both ways. But haven’t we sufficiently fulfilled our end of the bargain made back in the 1990s? Isn’t it time for someone else — such as the residents of Bridgeport and the region — to share in the prosperity that a thriving casino would bring?
Bridgeport is Connecticut’s largest city, and it has the most unemployed residents. What’s needed to turn that around are good-paying jobs for middle- and low-income people — jobs that bring health care and other benefits. Such jobs can be the foundations for careers and can give young people the means to stay here and build Connecticut’s future along with their own.
A Bridgeport casino would be good for the entire region and the state, and for the many existing businesses, which will benefit both from the business that a casino would drive and the customers who would come more readily with a growing economy. A successful entertainment mecca in our midst will incentivize other entrepreneurs to come here, invest here and grow here. That, in turn, will bring revenue to Bridgeport, the region and the state.
Connecticut cannot be successful unless our cities do better, and Bridgeport is the key to unlocking the state’s potential. Bridgeport is located on the edge of the strongest financial market in the world, a stone’s throw from the rest of Fairfield County, New York City and Long Island. I don’t believe it is hyperbole to suggest that many of the wealthiest people on the planet call the area home, and there is substantial benefit to tapping into that lucrative market.
If one were to draw the geography of the best possible location for a casino from scratch, the picture would look like Bridgeport. We have an unprecedented opportunity — right now — to lift Bridgeport and create the economic growth that has been elusive for so long in our state.
The legislature will adjourn in just two weeks. That is sufficient time to move forward on a pivotal issue that earned House of Representatives approval last year and has business and community support across the region and beyond. We cannot afford to let this session end without having seized the opportunity before us.