East Windsor, Ct., Initiates Eminent Domain to Acquire Tribal Land


Posted on: June 13, 2022, 12:02h. 

Last updated on: June 13, 2022, 12:16h.

Local officials in East Windsor, Ct., say the town has no choice but to proceed with eminent domain regarding vacant land that was supposed to become a casino, but has sat vacant for years.

East Windsor casino Connecticut tribes
The vacant East Windsor land where Showcase Cinemas stood for years before its 2018 demolition. Town officials are beginning eminent domain proceedings for the 28 acres after Connecticut’s two tribes folded on building a casino on the property. (Image: Journal Inquirer)

In 2017, East Windsor’s Board of Selectmen agreed to transfer ownership of roughly 28 acres of land that housed a former Showcase Cinema movie complex to the Mohegan Tribe and Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation. Connecticut’s two tribes had formed a joint entity called MMCT to develop and operate a satellite casino there.

Connecticut lawmakers and then-Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) agreed to allow the tribes to build the state’s first commercial casino. That was in response to MGM Resorts opening a nearly $1 billion casino destination just miles north of the Connecticut-Massachusetts border in Springfield.

The tribes, which own and operate Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods, argued that a considerable portion of their business would bleed north into Massachusetts without Connecticut allowing the tribes to open a casino in the north-central part of the state.

The East Windsor casino — dubbed Tribal Winds — was to be a collaboration among the tribes. But the project, which varied wildly in terms of overall investment from $200 million to $400 million, never came to fruition.

East Windsor Misses Out

With MGM Resorts lobbying heavily and accusing Connecticut of wrongly legalizing commercial gambling without conducting a competitive bidding process, the state and tribes eventually folded on the expansion plans. The tribes and current Gov. Ned Lamont (D) instead opted to amend their Class III gaming compacts to include online casino gambling and in-person and mobile sports betting.

While the resolution satisfied the state and tribes, the outcome was a major blow to East Windsor. The town had agreed to hand over the former Showcase Cinemas and its land, which ceased operations in March 2008, in exchange for a one-time upfront payment of $3 million no later than 15 months before the casino opened.

The tribes also agreed to give East Windsor an annual $3 million payment in perpetuity, in addition to the town’s local share of gaming taxes projected to total approximately $5.5 million a year.

East Windsor selectmen claim the town has been seeking to work with the tribes to find a new development opportunity for the property. But those local officials say the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot Indians have been unresponsive.

We have tried to be reasonable with the tribal nations, meeting with them on several occasions, to discuss how to develop the parcel,” First Selectman Jason Bowsza said in a town press release.

With the tribes seemingly unwilling to commit to a new endeavor, the Town of East Windsor says it’s inducting eminent domain proceedings.

Eminent Domain

Eminent domain, the Cornell Law School explains, refers to the power of governments to take private property and convert it into public use. Such powers are afforded to federal, state, and local governments.

East Windsor and state officials argue eminant domain is just in this case because the property is not currently generating property or other tax revenue for the town.

“The taxpayers of East Windsor have been harmed by the decisions made between the state of Connecticut and the tribes,” said Connecticut Senator M. Saud Anwar (D-South Windsor).

Eminent domain requires that governments provide property owners with a reasonable payment based on the property’s assessed value. MMCT says it spent more than $14 million demolishing the Showcase Cinemas and prepping the site for commercial development.   

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