New York Times on 25 October 2002

Connecticut Group Is Formed to Oppose the Expansion of Casino Gambling

by Jeff Benedict

Connecticut Group Is Formed to Oppose the Expansion of Casino Gambling

HARTFORD, Oct. 24— With support from state and municipal officials, regional business groups, church leaders and residents, a coalition of casino opponents announced today that they had formed a statewide nonprofit group to fight the expansion of casino gambling.

In a news conference at the Capitol attended by several state lawmakers and Connecticut's attorney general, the newly formed Connecticut Alliance Against Casino Expansion announced that its primary goal was to prevent the construction of a third casino in the state.

The group's president, Jeff Benedict, said there was an immediate need to organize before more Indian groups in Connecticut were given the federal recognition they need to move ahead with casino projects.

"State laws can be enacted that can make casinos very unprofitable and unwelcome here,'' said Mr. Benedict, a lawyer, author and recent candidate for Congress who ran on an anti-Indian-casino platform in the state's Second District. ''Our job is to work with the governor and the Legislature to form that policy.''

That eastern Connecticut district includes the Mashantucket Pequots and the Mohegans, each of which operates a hugely successful casino. Together, they produce billions of dollars in annual revenue, including millions for the state in taxes.

The impetus for the anti-casino coalition quickly formed this summer, after a third Connecticut tribe, the Eastern Pequots of North Stonington, won federal recognition in June. Recognition by the federal government gives tribes the sovereign status of a foreign government and allows them to build casinos in states where gambling is legal.

Several other tribes, in Bridgeport, Kent and other parts of western Connecticut, also have petitions for recognition pending before the Bureau of Indian Affairs, part of the United States Department of the Interior. The Eastern Pequots have been unable to move ahead with their casino plans because of a lawsuit filed by Attorney General Richard Blumenthal on behalf of the state, seeking to cancel the bureau's decision to bestow recognition.

Richard Velkey, chief of the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation, which expects to receive a preliminary decision on federal recognition next month, said the new coalition was treating tribes unfairly for its own special interests. ''They speak as though they're for the people, and yet the people in Bridgeport were for a casino,'' he said. ''If a manufacturer would come into the state of Connecticut and bring in 15,000 jobs, would these people be up in arms?''

The anti-casino group said it would try to repeal the state's ''Las Vegas nights'' law, which allows church bingo and raffles and provided the legal precedent for the Mashantucket and Mohegan tribes to open casinos. The group said it had raised $75,000 in the last few weeks.

We are now poised to take control of gambling policy in Connecticut and to take the initiative away from the moneyed interests who have backed so-called tribes pushing casino expansion,'' said State Senator William H. Nickerson, a Republican from Greenwich.

Nicholas H. Mullane II, North Stonington's first selectman, said the new group would help make people more aware of the negative social and economic impact of casinos. ''They take away from a lot of the other commercial endeavors in the state of Connecticut,'' Mr. Mullane said. ''It's a regressive form of business that really has no redeeming value.''

Though other anti-gambling and anti-casino groups have been around for years, members of the coalition said theirs was the only statewide group specifically opposed to more casino gambling.

Connecticut is one of many states where local communities have confronted the prospect of casino gambling. In Maine, where casino gambling is illegal, nine towns are holding referendums on whether to support the Passamaquoddy and Penobscot Indian tribes' efforts to change the law and build a $500 million casino. The State Legislature will probably also take up the issue next year.

In Iowa, 10 counties, including Dubuque on the Mississippi River, are holding casino referendums. Many northern California communities are also struggling with decisions on proposed casino plans.