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 Town Officials Tell of Casino Depradations

Local town officials take to road to tell grim story of living with two casinos

The Day Online: Eastern Connecticut's Information Source

By Eileen McNamara
Published on 9/15/2000

Shelton — Indian casinos bring more traffic, property devaluation, problem gamblers and reservation expansion, but no state aid to offset those problems.

That was the message traffic experts, state officials and town leaders sent business representatives and local officials from western Connecticut during a forum Thursday on casino developments and tribal recognition.

“We used to have one traffic light in town, now we have eight and we could use five or six more,” North Stonington First Selectman Nicholas H. Mullane II told about 150 people who attended the forum in the Shelton City Hall. A three-fold traffic increase is just one of a myriad of problems his small
town has experienced since the Mashantucket Pequots opened Foxwoods Resort Casino, Mullane said.

“We've closed down two houses of prostitution and now have a porn shop proposed in town,” he said. “That was what was attracted to our town because of the casino.” A few years ago, police closed down a fitness club and massage parlor in North Stonington that allegedly were fronts for
prostitution.

The forum was arranged by state Sen. George C. Jepsen, D-Stamford, and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal to address growing concerns about the Golden Hill Paugussetts' efforts to win federal recognition and open a casino in Bridgeport.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs next year is scheduled to
issue a preliminary finding on the tribe's petition.
Blumenthal has challenged the Golden Hills' bid for acknowledgment. Jepsen opposes casino development in southwestern Connecticut.

A standing-room only crowd of business leaders, town officials, members or representatives of some of Connecticut's Indian tribes and residents attended the four-hour forum.

Besides Blumenthal and the leaders of Preston, Ledyard and North Stonington, other speakers included experts in traffic,
labor issues, problem gambling and the environment.

Georges Jacquemart, a traffic consultant who has studied the impact of casinos on the state's highways, said the developments have wrought dramatic and deadly increases. Traffic on Route 2, he said, increased more than 300 percent after Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun opened, jumping from 9,000 cars per day to 27,000.

But the increase in fatalities on the highway is even more stunning, he said. The number of deaths from car accidents on Route 2 increased 600 percent in that same time period.
“It's the first time in my career that I can translate a project directly into the number of fatalities on a major highway,” he said.

Jacquemart said he has only recently begun his traffic study on the possible impacts of a Golden Hills' casino. But he said he used numbers from a study his firm did five years ago, when another proposal for a Bridgeport casino was debated.

On Fridays, when gridlock is regularly seen on Interstate 95 from 4 to 7 p.m., the casino traffic could cause jams as early as 11 a.m. and continue until 9 p.m., Jacquemart said.
“A big mess,” he said.

The Golden Hills and the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation, which also is seeking recognition and hopes to pursue casino development, were invited to take part in the forum. The Golden Hills declined, but Richard L. Velky, the Schaghticokes' chief, accepted and discussed his tribe's more than 50-year effort to win federal acknowledgment.

The tribe, he said, filed land claims in 1949, and in 1994 filed a formal petition with the BIA. The tribe has become frustrated by the long delays inherent in the BIA process, and agree with Blumenthal's call to reform it.

“Over the past several years, the Schaghticoke Tribe has become intensely aware that the current acknowledgment process … is broken and must be fixed,” Velky said.
Velky also agrees with Blumenthal's assessment that BIA Director Kevin Gover is trying to lower the recognition standards for the Paucatuck Eastern Pequots and Eastern Pequots to set precedent to clear the way for the Golden
Hills to win acknowledgment.

The Paucatuck Easterns and Eastern Pequots won preliminary recognition in March. Gover, a lawyer, once represented the Golden Hills. The tribe in 1996 was denied acknowledgment by the BIA, but the agency last year agreed to reconsider the tribe's application.

Mullane, along with Preston First Selectman Robert M. Congdon and Ledyard Mayor Wesley J. Johnson Sr., took part in a panel discussion on the impacts of Foxwoods on their neighboring communities.

All three said the casino has brought little or no new commercial developments to their towns, and has significantly increased traffic and the need for more police coverage.
Congdon also said the increases in traffic wrought by the casino has significantly decreased property values by up to
25 percent for homes located on or near the town's major highways.

The state has largely ignored the towns' repeated pleas to increase their share of slot machine profits that the state gets from Indian-run casinos, the three town leaders said. They warned local and state leaders to beware of all those issues if the Golden Hills win recognition.

“The state of Connecticut needs to ante up,” Johnson said. “Other than the attorney general, we have gotten very little help from the state.”

Blumenthal said if the Golden Hills are recognized, the state by federal law would have to negotiate a gaming compact with the tribe. “If recognition occurs, the tribe will open a casino, it's just a matter of negotiating terms,” he said.