Freeman attacks Yucca Mountain; Brawl in Connecticut

Back when Frank Fahrenkopf was its president, the American Gaming Association was little seen or heard, as Fahrenkopf played a flawless defensive game behind the scenes. Washington, D.C., never laid a glove on Big Gaming (although eugenicist and sometime Congressman Steve King [R] made an effort). Current prexy Geoff Freeman, by contrast, plays on offense and on multiple fronts. An attempt to push the Internet-gaming agenda died ignominiously, the jury is still out on sports betting and Freeman is just beginning to be heard on health insurance for pathological gamblers (the AGA’s for it). However, when it comes to getting his talking points into the mainstream media, Freeman is a virtuoso, sometimes to the point — particularly on sports betting — where he’s driving the discussion.

If Freeman is obliquely at odds with Rep. Paul Ryan (R) on health insurance, he’s downright “in your face” with the AGA’s newest talking point: the revival of the Yucca Mountain nuclear-waste repository — or “nuclear suppository” as the late, beloved Sen. Chic Hecht (R) unforgettably put it. (Am I imagining things or is that Harry Reid whispering in Freeman’s ear?) Since the nuclear sludge would travel on train tracks that run parallel to the Las Vegas Strip, a certain amount of alarm is understandable. Right after the election, Freeman reached out to Donald Trump with a laundry list of AGA concerns (Sample: “We encourage a reasonable approach to reform our nation’s immigration system that provides security, but promotes economic growth.”)

Toward the end, Freeman expressed “serious concerns” about Yucca Mountain, which could “bring potentially devastating consequences to the world’s premier tourist destination and the industry, which all Nevadans rely on in one way or another.” Now that the Trump administration wants to spend $120 million bringing the Yucca Montrosity back to life, Freeman has issued the following statement: “AGA opposes any effort to revive Yucca Mountain as a repository and will work tirelessly with the many concerned citizens, small-business operators and members of Congress to ensure that radioactive waste is never stored anywhere near the world’s premier tourist, convention and entertainment destination.” This will be a test not only of Freeman but of Sen. Dean Heller‘s ability to fend off nuclear waste. Heller’s had several years to learn from Reid on this issue. Now we’ll see how that education paid off.

* Global Gaming Industry scoops the press today with an in-depth take on the increasingly confrontational situation in Connecticut. You can read the story in full here but I’ll try to hit upon a few high notes. The salient point is that there are now two bills before the Nutmeg State Lege, one which would affirm the state’s sweetheart deal with Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort Casino for a satellite casino in East Windsor. The other, less constitutionally perilous bill would create an open-bid process (and a higher tax rate) and is, understandably, favored by MGM Resorts International. We’re a little skeptical when MGM’s counsel, Uri Clinton, says East Windsor would get a better deal from open bidding but decide for yourselves. (Interestingly, former Obama administration Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, has popped up amid the MGM ranks.)

MGM is a stalking horse for the Schaghticoke Indians, a tribe hobbled by a lack of federal recognition. Mohegan Tribe Chairman Kevin Brown had a verbal smackdown for MGM: “Our friends from Las Vegas are here and they say we have not picked the right site. We have crafted a smart strategy and believe their claims are hard to take seriously. Instead of suggesting Bridgeport (whose mayor is being reluctantly dragged into the debate) is the right place to go, where is the effort to build there?” MGM counters that it could draw upon the New York market (the East Windsor site is intended to undercut MGM Springfield in Massachusetts). Lawmakers opted to vote both bills out of committee, setting up a throw down in the full Legislature.

Caught in the middle is Gov. Dannel P. Malloy (D), whose attorney general doubts the constitutionality of the East Windsor deal. Molloy moaned, “I’m the unlucky governor who’s had to live through about
$150 million in revenue disappearing. I think we also have to be careful not to give away another $250 million in revenue,” if tribal exclusivity is breached. He added, “I don’t think that question has been appropriately raised and put before the legislature, and we’re now in March,” the stretch drive of the Legislature. Casino opponents have been getting their oar in, too, projecting doom and gloom for East Windsor. With a big Mohegan/Foxwoods infusion within reach, those scare tactics are backfiring on naysayers, so there’s at least one point on which all Connecticut casino boosters can agree. The Contortionist Prize goes to state Sen. Craig Miner (R), who covered multiple asses with “While my personal position [against gambling] hasn’t changed, my position as an elected official is to support both bills.” Ah, leadership.

* On account of “an unfortunate family emergency affecting a founding member of the band,” Cameo has closed its Westgate Las Vegas show. Considering that Cameo was a two-hit wonder, the reaction seems to be surprise, not that the show closed but that it lasted as long as it did — and would have run longer. Our condolences to the band.

* Mohegan Sun’s new megaresort, Paradise City, opens on April 20. Mark the date on your calendars because this Incheon International Airport casino will be the acid test of whether big-ticket resort casinos in South Korea can succeed without local players.

* Eeyore is notorious for his poor disposition. However, he — or someone dressed just like him — was in a positive fury the other night at Harmon Crossing. Video of the beatdown can be seen here.

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