On the “to do” list for the 2017 legislative session for Connecticut’s two tribes is the possible approval of a third casino along I-91.
The path to how they get there is still largely up in the air.
On Friday, after a meeting with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy— who has been neutral about the prospects of a third casino off tribal land — the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes issued a press release announcing they are no longer considering East Hartford, Hartford, or South Windsor as locations for their gaming facility. That leaves East Windsor and Windsor Locks as possible locations.
“After a detailed economic analysis, we’ve determined that East Windsor and Windsor Locks align best with our development models and preserve more jobs and revenue for the state,” Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council Chairman Rodney Butler said. “Ultimately, wherever we build this facility, we are committed to be excellent neighbors, dedicated to helping the Capitol Region succeed.”
Officials from the tribes are currently working with local leaders in both East Windsor and Windsor Locks to set up local forums to discuss the issue with the local communities.
The tribes, which were allowed to form a business entity through special legislation in 2015, will also have to get the General Assembly’s permission to proceed past choosing a location.
In 2015, Attorney General George Jepsen laid out several “legal uncertainties” for lawmakers in a six-page letter.
Jepsen warned in his letter that the state’s 25 percent share of the casinos’ gross slot revenue would “cease if state law permitted any person other than the Tribes to operate such games or other commercial casino games.” He also raised the question of whether proceeding with the third casino might trigger an increase in the number of federally recognized tribes that could claim gaming rights.
There’s also a question about whether a third party could challenge the tribes’ exclusive rights to gambling off their reservation. A footnote in Jepsen’s letter points out that giving only these two tribes the right to gaming operations off the reservation could be a violation of the Equal Protection Clause. A third party could also say it’s a violation of the Commerce Clause because it seeks to protect in-state economic interests from interstate commerce.
“We are unable to predict with any certainty how a court would resolve such issues,” Jepsen wrote.
MGM Resorts International, which is building a casino in Springfield, Mass., seized on that argument when they challenged the new tribal entity in court. In July 2016, U.S. District Judge Alvin W. Thompson ruled that MGM failed to “adequately allege an injury” from the special act that allows the state’s two Indian tribes to form a special business entity and negotiate casino development with a town.
Thompson said that because any injury to MGM is “purely speculative” the company doesn’t have legal standing to sue. MGM appealed the ruling to the U.S. Second Circuit District Court in New York. Oral arguments on the appeal were heard last November and no decision has been issued.
On Friday, Alan Feldman, executive vice president of MGM Resorts International, said Connecticut’s process is “a sham.”
He called the Friday afternoon announcement “mysterious.”
“This is not the right way for a state to enter into its first commercial casino,” Feldman said. “The right way is what we’ve been suggesting all along: the state should scrap the current law and adopt a new one that guarantees a fair, open, transparent, and most important, a competitive process. One that allows all qualified bidders to compete.”
Malloy continues to maintain his neutrality on the subject.
“We value and respect our relationship with the tribal nations and the role that casinos play as employers in our state,” Malloy’s spokeswoman Kelly Donnelly said in an email. “In regard to the potential for a third casino, the General Assembly proposed and adopted legislation creating a process for the potential siting for this type of development. That process is playing out in an appropriate manner, one step at a time, and our administration is closely watching as it progresses.”