For many, the word “casino” conjures up an image of whirring slot machines, spinning roulette tables and glitzy lounges. But, for thousands of New Haven residents, the industry may soon become synonymous with job opportunities.
On September 18, MGM Resorts International announced its plan to build a new casino in Bridgeport along with a workforce development center to be located in New Haven. The waterside resort is projected to cost around $675 million and provide more than 7,000 jobs to residents of western Connecticut. Before the casino can begin construction, however, it must be approved by the state legislature, where it will face opposition from the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes, which have argued that the state has granted them exclusive casino development rights in Connecticut.
The proposed resort would include eleven bars and restaurants, expansive retail space, 2,000 slot machines and 160 table games, a 700-seat entertainment venue, a 300-room hotel and a boardwalk on the Yellow Mill River. Altogether, the project will inject $1.1 billion into the local economy, including an annual $4.5 million to be paid to towns and cities surrounding Bridgeport, according to MGM.
A site for the New Haven workforce development center has not been decided but would nevertheless be ideally located for residents, according to Laurence Grotheer, spokesman for Mayor Toni Harp. “It would be most accessible to New Haven residents and those living in the immediate New Haven area. Assuming they are placed at the MGM facility, it would be just a 20-minute drive or a 20-minute train ride to Bridgeport,” Grotheer said.
According to MGM spokesman Bernard Kavaler, the center would also help bring the region together. “There certainly are a tremendous number of people who are interested in employment in southwest Connecticut,” Kavaler said. “Locating a workforce development and training center in New Haven would highlight MGM’s interest in the New Haven area workforce in providing those opportunities. It brings both Bridgeport and New Haven together in support of the resort casino.”
The training center could be especially beneficial to less educated workers in the New Haven area, according to economics professor Joseph Altonji ’75 GRD ’75. “Casinos tend to offer lower-wage service jobs, but there are people who can use those jobs, and providing them with training could be very helpful to some people who are in jobs that are perhaps not as good as what the casinos can offer,” he said.
Moreover, the opening of such a center is a step away from a general trend of declining employer-led workforce development. “We see less job training by employers than we used to because there’s a lot of mobility, and so perhaps in some sense this attempt to build a labor force could benefit some people who have been having trouble finding stable employment,” Altonji said.
MGM has won several awards for diversity in its employment, including being named one of the 40 best companies for diversity by Black Enterprise Magazine in 2012 and a top corporation for LGBT economic empowerment by Affinity Inc. Magazine in 2016. This could make the project more appealing to residents of New Haven, whose population is about 24.2 percent Hispanic and 34.5 percent black.
The first step for MGM will be to receive a gaming license from the state legislature. In June 2015, the state passed a gaming act granting exclusive casino development rights to the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes, which run the Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun, respectively. In the same year, MGM sued state officials in federal court, calling the gaming act unconstitutional, but the suit was dismissed. The two tribes already expect to lose business to an MGM casino under construction in Springfield, Massachusetts, and issued a statement on September 18 declaring that the new casino would breach their deal with the state.
Once the project clears the state legislature, MGM will still have to work with City Hall to identify a site for its workforce development center and to acquire the various permits that such a construction requires. According to Kavaler, MGM hopes to complete construction of the resort 30 months after it gets approval from the state.
The proposal has also raised concerns about the impact that the casino will have on the local economy. According to economists at the National Society of Realtors, casinos have a consistently negative impact on nearby property values, and people who live within 10 miles of a casino are twice as likely to become problem gamblers as those who live further away, according to the Institute for American Values. Moreover, according to Altonji, though gambling tends to be an expensive form of entertainment, it is typically more popular with people with lower incomes.
MGM is headquartered in Las Vegas and runs 27 properties worldwide.
Nathalie Bussemaker | firstname.lastname@example.org