Ctnewsjunkie file photo
Mashantucket Pequot Chairman Rodney Butler and Mohegan Tribal Chairman Kevin Brown (Ctnewsjunkie file photo)

HARTFORD, CT —Lawmakers who favor maintaining the exclusivity of two federally recognized Indian tribes’ gaming operations in Connecticut applauded comments that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy made Friday to another news organization.

Malloy told the Connecticut Mirror that if the legislature is considering expanding gaming it should respect its long-standing relationship with the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan Tribal Nations. 

Sens. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, and Tim Larson, D-East Hartford, thanked Malloy for his comments.

“The governor’s comments today provide the legislature with a single, clear path forward on the issue of casino expansion in Connecticut, one that I believe is both reasonable and necessary to protect and grow our economy,” Sprague said.

House and Senate leaders have remained non-committal about maintaining the relationships with the tribes by allowing them to open up a casino in East Windsor to compete with MGM Resort International’s casino in Springfield, Mass.

MGM has suggested that the state could see a greater revenue share by opening up the bidding process for a third Connecticut casino. There’s also those who believe opening a third casino in Fairfield County would be a better option than East Windsor.

However, Malloy said the letter the tribes received from the Bureau of Indian Affairs made him more comfortable with tribal exclusivity.

James Cason, the acting Deputy Secretary for the Department of the Interior, stressed in a May 12 letter that changes in Washington would not impact the tribe’s revenue sharing agreement with Connecticut.

“In practice, the Department has not disturbed long-standing compacts when reviewing amendments to the underlying agreement,” Cason wrote. “Here, the Tribes and the State have long-relied upon the Compacts that have facilitated a significant source of revenue for the Tribes and the State. The Department does not anticipate disturbing these underlying agreements.”

The tribes share 25 percent of their slot revenue with the state. Currently, it’s about $260 million a year, but has been much higher in the past.

Uri Clinton, senior vice president and legal counsel for MGM Resorts International, said lawmakers should not take the BIA letter seriously and he disagrees with the governor.

“This is not news — it’s a hoax,” Clinton said about the BIA letter. “As the letter itself states, this is not preliminary approval or an advisory opinion. It’s just another attempt by the tribes to pull the wool over people’s eyes, which means the red flags raised by Attorney General George Jepsen remain as red as ever.”

Those red flags Clinton is referring to are the constitutional issues.

“The best deal for Connecticut – in terms of generating tax revenue and creating jobs – is to scrap the current process and put in place a new one that is fair, open, and competitive,” Clinton said. “A New York-facing casino with a 35 percent tax rate would generate more than $260 million in tax revenue and fees. Only a competitive process can successfully address the constitutional issues the Attorney General has raised.”

MGM has already challenged the state in court regarding the constitution’s commerce clause and whether exclusivity would make the deal unconstitutional. The case is pending in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

MGM has not said whether it would file another lawsuit if the state proceeds with giving the tribes exclusivity.

“Based on two years of due diligence and public debate, we know that there is only one proposal that will save thousands of jobs and millions in state tax revenue,” Mohegan Tribal Chairman Kevin Brown and Mashanucket Pequot Chairman Rodney Butler said Friday. “By building a world-class gaming and entertainment facility in East Windsor, we hope to benefit the entire Hartford region.”