A Connecticut judge has ruled the East Windsor Planning and Zoning Commission “abused its discretion” in signing off on a liquor permit for the casino site.
The state’s two tribes want to jointly build a satellite casino on a 28.5-acre lot located at 105 Prospect Road along I-91 and Route 5 – which was formerly the location of a Showcase Cinemas movie theater. The venue’s plans feature a casino floor measuring 188,000 square feet, restaurants, and bars.
Connecticut Superior Court Judge Marshall Berger sided this week with a plaintiff’s lawsuit that contends the casino was erroneously issued a special permit to distribute alcohol.
“The court holds that the commission abused its discretion in granting the special permit as to the sale of alcohol, and did not have jurisdiction to consider the sale of alcohol based upon defective notice,” Berger declared.
The judge said the commission didn’t properly notify the general public during the hearing process that the sale of alcohol would be included in the project. Necessary notices of the location applying for an alcohol permit also weren’t displayed at the vacant site.
The commission countered that “it is common knowledge that the sale of alcohol is a use associated with casino operations.”
Casinos and Booze
While the East Windsor Planning and Zoning Commission might be right in assuming most people understand the flow of alcohol is a staple of any casino floor, Berger explained the law says otherwise.
While we disagree with the ruling, the decision is not entirely unexpected and affects only one aspect of our application,” said Andrew Doba, a spokesman for the tribes. “We still have a path forward and remain committed to our ultimate goal of preserving Connecticut jobs and revenue.”
Despite Berger’s ruling, the judge dismissed claims by the plaintiff that the commission engaged in “contract zoning” where a government “extracts” a benefit from a developer.
“There is nothing about this claim that suggests unfairness. In sum, it appears the commission exercised its honest judgment reasonably and fairly,” Berger stated.
“The plaintiff has not sustained its burden to prove that there was an unfair hearing process, or that there was not substantial evidence to support the commission’s decision,” Berger stated.
The plaintiff was Sofia’s Plazas, LLC, which owns retail buildings less than 100 feet from the proposed casino site. There are several businesses in the plazas that serve alcohol.
The legal challenge could be much ado about nothing if the East Windsor casino doesn’t move forward.
Emails recently made public from Gov. Ned Lamont (D) to Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Chairman Rodney Butler reveal the governor wants to “keep it simple” when it comes to gaming expansion. He wants to “avoid years and years of complex litigation.”
MGM Resorts has challenged the US Interior Department for taking the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan newly acquired acreage into federal trust. The casino giant has also sued Connecticut on grounds that it essentially legalized commercial gambling, and should hold a competitive bidding process if it wants to allow a third casino.