The presence of casinos and other legal gambling venues in New England have grown since Foxwoods Resort Casino in Ledyard began as a simple Bingo hall in 1986.
From that point on, more casinos, gambling parlors, card rooms and other ventures have sprung up, often centered around the coastal areas of the region.
Connecticut residents far away from Ledyard and Uncasville and all the way up through the Farmington Valley reap the benefits of Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun as supplemental tax funds from those businesses help municipal governments balance their budgets.
What changes the New England casino, gaming and nightlife scene, and may negatively impact the tax and tourism dollars for Connecticut, is the recent decision by Massachusetts to allow three full-fledged casinos, possibly including one in downtown Springfield, within its borders.
For Farmington Valley residents, even those living in Canton or Farmington and relatively far from the I-91 north connector in East Granby that provides a quick, 20-minute ride to Springfield, a trip to “the metropolis of Western New England” is still shorter than a drive to the Connecticut shore. It's more convenient to West Hartford, too.
The desire to let a winning bet ride on roulette, split your eights at the blackjack table, engage in some spirited rounds of Pai Gow poker, or simply enjoy music, food, drinks and dancing without putting hard-earned money down on slots and tables, could easily drive northern Connecticut residents to Springfield, saving time and money on the longer trips to Connecticut’s two casinos.
Although other states have some gambling — two casinos in Maine, poker rooms in New Hampshire and Rhode Island’s own Twin Rivers Casino and Newport Grand Slots, to name some of the prominent ones — Connecticut’s two casinos are informally seen as the real destinations in the area, offering a full compliment of gambling opportunities, Las Vegas-style hotels and accommodations and heavyweight celebrity endorsements and ventures.
But the “big dog” designation held by Connecticut’s big two casinos could soon change. Unlike Twin Rivers, which offers a limited amount of gambling games and opportunities, or New Hampshire’s poker rooms, the three Massachusetts casinos are being developed as equals to the full-immersion experience provided by Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods.
The plan for three casinos and a slot machine parlor has been approved by the Massachusetts legislature after decades of debate, according to the Hartford Courtant. The primary casinos will be divided between the Bay State’s three major regions: Western Massachusetts, the greater Boston area and southeastern Massachusetts.
The Springfield proposal from MGM, which is also a partner with Foxwoods, is for an $800 million non-traditional casino, according to the Courant. That story said MGM Chief Marketing Officer William Hornbuckle directly compared the Springfield plan to West Hartford’s . Instead of a traditional, enclosed, all-in-one casino, the proposed venue would feature open streets, multiple entrances and exits and an environment encouraging visitors to venture further out into the city.
Hornbuckle specifically mentioned area residents when discussing the plan with the Courant as he told the paper, "I want people in West Hartford to say, 'I want to go to Springfield, go have dinner, some fun, and maybe stay the night.'"
MGM’s plan is based on revitalizing a few blocks of downtown Springfield near the MassMutual Center, which was damaged and blighted after a series of severe weather systems tore through the area in the summer of 2011. That additional enticement to Springfield officials may help MGM pull ahead when the winning plans are decided upon.
Of course, a number of questions remain: Will the Massachusetts casinos provide jobs and opportunities for northern Connecticut residents? Will a decrease in business at Connecticut’s own casinos negatively affect state and municipal budgets? Will the many Connecticut casino goers roughly equidistant between the shoreline casinos and the proposed Springfield site continue to visit Mohegan and Foxwoods, or will they change their allegiance to the Bay State?