The author of this editorial is the Chief of Staff for the Mohegan Tribe

In the coming days, the legislature’s Finance Committee will consider House Bill 5608 The Issuance of Liquor Permits To Casinos That Permit Smoking In Such Premises, a bill that would attempt to ban smoking in the state’s two Native American-owned casinos.

The Mohegan Tribe has tried to make their arguments against the legislation clear. A state-imposed ban will prompt casino patrons who smoke to take their business to casinos in other jurisdictions that allow smoking, such as Rhode Island, Atlantic City and New York’s Native American casinos. The resulting loss of business that once came to Connecticut would be devastating, particularly in this depressed economy. Furthermore, the Tribe has taken significant steps to limit the smoking areas to the gaming floor and to clean the air where smoking is allowed.

Since the United Auto Workers at Foxwoods began lobbying for the legislation last year, the Mohegan Tribe negotiated a separate agreement with Governor Rell signed in January that details the mitigation efforts and the required twice a year air quality testing. The Mashantuckets and the state have now reached a similar agreement.

A bill that required both Tribes to agree to the terms of the January agreement was subject of a public hearing in February. At that hearing,  our air quality engineers (who also create air handling systems for laboratories that deal with anthrax) explained to legislators in detail how the systems exchange air up to 25 times per hour, compared to three times per hour in most public buildings. They talked how about the air cleaning system directs smoke to a filtering system in the ceiling, and how newly installed blowers on the gaming tables help protect the dealers and assist in those efforts. The air cleaning system, the engineers testified, performs at levels well above those set by OSHA.

At the same hearing, I testified about the Mohegan Sun written policies that allow employees who work in smoking areas to transfer to non-smoking areas.

When a new draft of the bill was raised by the Public Health Committee in the weeks after the public hearing, it included new language to ban smoking on Tribal lands on a date certain. Mohegan Tribal Chairman Bruce “Two Dogs” Bozsum notified Governor Rell that the new language violates the compact between the Mohegan Tribal Nation and the state of Connecticut. Chairman Bozsum reminded the Governor that the Tribe’s federally guaranteed sovereignty includes the right to self-govern, and that the Tribe must be allowed to address smoking issues in a way that protects the government-to-government relationship.

Further, because Connecticut would be the first state in the nation to attempt to impose smoking regulations on sovereign land, the Chairman and the Tribe’s Attorney General said they would be forced to challenge the state’s breach of the compact in federal court. This action would be necessary to protect their sovereign rights and those of all other tribes in the United States.

This week, Mohegan Sun’s CEO Mitchell Etess presented new information compiled by the nonprofit Connecticut Economic Research Council that estimated a job loss of up to 4,000 at Mohegan Sun and among vendors and businesses providing services if such a ban is imposed. Looking only at Mohegan Sun’s data, CERC estimated a loss of up to $164 million in wages in Connecticut and estimated those numbers would double when Foxwoods is included.

In this difficult economy, with the state facing an $8 billion deficit, and lawmakers struggling to find a way to balance the budget without gutting services and having to raise more taxes than residents can afford, working together makes much more sense.

The Mohegan Tribe and the state of Connecticut have worked together with mutual respect and cooperation for centuries. We firmly believe this issue should be settled with a through government -to-government agreement that respects sovereignty and protects public health as our current agreement does, and we hope that lawmakers will consider the compelling arguments against this legislation and reject HB5608.

The author of this editorial is the Chief of Staff for the Mohegan Tribe