The Schaghticoke Tribal Nation teamed up with a powerful partner in filing a federal lawsuit Monday against the state of Connecticut.
MGM Resorts International, which last year brought its own lawsuit against Connecticut, is joining the Schaghticoke tribe in the latest federal lawsuit claiming that Special Act 15-7 is unconstitutional.
The special act gives the exclusive right to build a third casino to MMCT Venture LLC, the joint business venture created by the Mashantucket Pequots and Mohegan Tribe.
Richard L. Velky, chief of the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation, and Alan Feldman, executive vice president of Global Government & Industry Affairs at MGM, made the announcement in front of the U.S. District Court in Hartford.
“All we are looking for is a level playing field,” Velky told reporters outside the courthouse.
Velky said the Schaghticokes are “proud to be collaborating’’ with MGM on the lawsuit. Pressed as to who was paying for the legal costs, Velky stated: “We are paying some and MGM is paying some.”
Velky and Feldman, declined to discuss the financial breakdown of the relationship between the Schaghticokes and MGM in any more specific detail.
Feldman said MGM “intends to stand up for our rights in court” in both lawsuits challenging Special Act 15-7, which grants the Mashantucket Pequots and the Mohegans the right to pursue Connecticut’s first ever commercial casino on non-tribal land.
Feldman said MGM, which is currently building a casino in Springfield, believes there is a “strong market” for casino development in the southwestern part of Connecticut.
The Mashantucket Pequots and the Mohegans — Connecticut’s only two federally-recognized Indian tribes — are moving forward with efforts to maintain their market share by building a satellite casino in the north central part of the state to compete with the MGM casino being built in Springfield.
“Without any competitive bidding or gaming study, Connecticut shut out the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation and awarded to one pair of Native American tribes the exclusive ability to develop a highly-valuable commercial enterprise,” Velky said. “Under the Equal Protection clauses of the federal and state Constitutions, the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation should have the same right to pursue this economic opportunity as anyone else.”
Because Special Act 15-7 would permit building a casino on non-tribal land, Velky said the Schaghticoke’s status as non-federally recognized tribal nation shouldn’t matter.
“The state has a long history of discriminating against the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation,” Velky said. “Recently, the state fought our federal recognition, supposedly because they didn’t want another casino in Connecticut.
“Now Connecticut wants to open a new casino, but only if the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation doesn’t get an opportunity to submit a proposal to operate it. The Schaghticoke Tribal Nation seeks equal treatment, which does not exist under Special Act 15-7,” Velky said.
Asked if the two would team up on building a new casino, Velky said it’s “a little pre-mature to discuss that today.”
In the lawsuit MGM filed last year against the same special act, the suit claimed the new law creates “an exclusive, no-bid process for the Preferred Tribes to present to the Connecticut legislature a proposal for development of an off-reservation commercial casino in Connecticut.”
The state declined to comment on the lawsuit.
“We will review any complaint that is served and respond at the appropriate time in court. We would decline further comment at this time,” Jaclyn M. Falkowski, director of communications for the Office of Attorney General George Jepsen, said.
Andrew Doba, spokesman for MMCT Venture, said the partnership should “raise a red flag.”
“After weeks of not returning phone calls from reporters, Chief Velky finally revealed that his operation is being bankrolled by MGM,” Doba said. “This startling revelation — which according to the chief was a year in the making — should raise a red flag for anyone who is concerned about MGM’s plan to steal jobs from Connecticut residents.”
Meanwhile, there is plenty more work MMCT Venture will need to do before it can start building a casino.
The special act essentially gives them authority to seek a location in Connecticut for a casino.
When and if they find a location, they still have to seek approval the legislature’s approval — something the General Assembly declined to do last year in light of questions raised by Jepsen.
Jepsen warned that legislation giving the tribes exclusive rights to a new casino would itself be a gamble, potentially endangering the current profit-sharing deal the state has with the tribes and exposing the state to lawsuits, like the ones filed by MGM and the Schaghticokes.