Elizabeth Regan
Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council Chairman Rodney Butler (left) and Mohegan Tribal Council Chairman Kevin Brown (Elizabeth Regan)

As the state of Connecticut and the two Indian tribes that have put billions of dollars in its coffers over the past 20 years work to establish a third casino, competition in Massachusetts is decrying the collaboration.

Last week, Mohegan Tribal Council Chairman Kevin Brown and Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council Chairman Rodney Butler announced the creation of a joint business venture authorized by the state legislature that allows them to enter into conversations with municipalities interested in hosting a smaller-scale gaming operation north of Hartford.

Alan Feldman, MGM Resorts International Executive Vice President, issued a statement characterizing the announcement as part of the problem that led the company to file a lawsuit against Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and other state officials last month.

“Last week’s announcement was a continuation of an unconstitutional process that does not allow anyone else to make proposals that could result in greater benefits for the state of Connecticut, its residents, and consumers,” Feldman said. “This is the result of a flawed, closed-door deal that shuts out voters in the approval process, eliminates all competition and doesn’t provide any protections for workers.”

Andrew Doba, spokesman for the joint tribes and who previously served as Malloy’s communications director, countered in his own statement that the process has been transparent.

“Mr. Feldman either wasn’t paying attention to the Connecticut General Assembly last session or is deliberately trying to mislead people. Either way, he’s just wrong. This bill was the subject of numerous public hearings and countless hours of public testimony,” Doba said. “It passed multiple committees, was approved with bipartisan legislative support from across the state in both the House and the Senate and has the support of organized labor. Why? Because it takes the steps we need to protect the good paying jobs and revenue that come along with this crucial part of Connecticut’s economy.”

But MGM isn’t the only one raising legal questions about the state’s efforts to facilitate a new casino. Before this year’s watered-down legislation passed the General Assembly, Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen expressed concern about a new casino’s potential for violating the revenue agreements the state currently has with the tribes and serving as a trigger to increase the number of tribes to succeed at asserting the right to casino gambling.

“Given the unique nature and history of the state’s gaming relationships with the tribes, there is very little in the way of legal precedent or guidance that allows for a confident analysis of these complex and uncertain legal questions,” Jepsen wrote in a memo to lawmakers.

Brown and Butler have said their goal is to get the casino up and running before the $800 million MGM Springfield casino opens its doors. The Massachusetts facility was originally slated for completion in September 2017 but has been pushed back a year because of highway construction.

The tribes would have to come back to the General Assembly to get approval to build the casino after choosing a specific location.

State Rep. Stephen Dargan, D-West Haven, suggested MGM should show the state money instead of legal challenges.

Dargan drew a comparison between efforts 20 years ago to build a casino in Bridgeport, at which time then-Gov. John G. Rowland asked bidders for unconditional letters of credit to make up for the loss of revenue the state received from the Mashantucket Pequot tribe for exclusive rights to operate a casino in Connecticut.

“If MGM wants to give us a letter of credit of $297 million we would lose from the tribes if we would in fact open it up, I’m sure we’d be more than happy to listen to MGM’s proposal,” Dargan said.

In a statement last month, MGM Resorts International President Bill Hornbuckle said his company applied with the office of the Secretary of the State to register a business to compete for the casino, but was rejected.

“MGM regularly competes for commercial casino development opportunities and would like to be able to do so in Connecticut,” Hornbuckle said.