MGM poll highlights jobs

By Brian Lockhart, ctpost

BRIDGEPORT — A majority of city residents back MGM’s proposal to build a $675 million waterfront casino in town, believing the company’s pitch that it will create 7,779 job — many filled by locals.

That is according to the Washington D.C.-based Mellman group, hired to conduct a poll for MGM that was shared with Hearst Connecticut Media.

MGM has launched an aggressive effort to pressure the powers-that-be at the state capital in Hartford to allow the casino, hotel and entertainment complex to move forward.

Of the 500 registered Bridgeport voters reached by phone between Sept. 20th and 24th, 74 percent back the casino and entertainment destination, with 18 percent opposed, Mellman said.

The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

It is questionable how much difference a local poll will make.

City residents who voted in a symbolic referendum in the mid-1990s similarly expressed strong support for a casino when one was proposed at that time. Despite that enthusiasm, the plan never moved forward.

And earlier this year MGM partnered with other gaming organizations to commission a statewide poll that found 72 percent of Connecticut residents favored a competitive process for opening a third casino. Ultimately the Legislature instead allowed the tribes, which operate the established casinos in the southeastern section of the state, to partner on a third casino in East Windsor.

That was an effort to compete with MGM’s new gaming destination being built in Springfield, Mass.

On the other hand, 2018 is a gubernatorial election year, and the Democratic candidates — including possibly Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim — will certainly be looking to the big cities like Bridgeport to hold onto that office in Hartford.

Peter George, 84, who was born and raised in Bridgeport, was in favor of a casino two decades ago and still likes the idea. He participated in the Mellman poll.

“I’m hoping what they say is true,” Mellman said of MGM. “That it’s about jobs and development of the city in general. That it will help the economy in the city.”

He is not alone. According Mellman, 41 percent of those polled rated MGM’s pledge that “Bridgeport residents will have the first opportunity to fill 70 percent of the jobs at the casino” to be one of the most important elements of the proposal.

Runner up at 40 percent was MGM’s statement that “no tax dollars will be spent on the construction or operation of the casino.”

But can MGM truly guarantee work for city residents?

Asked to further elaborate on the promise made to poll participants, an MGM spokesman forwarded a section of a deal struck with Prince George’s County, Maryland.

That stated “MGM shall use its best efforts” to hire “county residents and/or veterans” for slots making up to 50 percent of “operations-related” staff. MGM in that same pact with Prince George’s County committed to a recruitment effort “that will provide county residents the first opportunity to learn about and apply for positions” and to host local job fairs.

Bridgeport state Sen. Marilyn Moore has not been as enthusiastic about MGM’s plans as some of her colleagues. But she was not surprised by the results of the Mellman poll.

“We’re a desperate city for jobs,” said Moore, a Democrat. “People want to work, and I understand that.”

But Moore said she needs plenty of additional information on the casino and more proof of the local benefits beyond MGM’s promotional materials.

“I’ve seen this over and over again,” Moore said. “These ‘pie in the sky’ ideas that never make a difference to people who live here in the way of income equality or economics. I never see it make Bridgeport this place where we can breath because something great has happened.”

“I’m not against it,” emphasized Moore, a potential mayoral candidate. “I just think we need to sit down and talk about pros and cons and what it means to Bridgeport residents and the future of Bridgeport.”

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