HARTFORD, CT — Connecticut’s two Senators and Rep. Joe Courtney sent a letter to U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke five days ago asking him to take action on a request from Connecticut’s two federally recognized tribes.
U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy joined Courtney in penning the Nov. 2 letter requesting approval for the amendments to the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan Tribal Nation’s compacts with the state of Connecticut.
The tribes are seeking an amendment that guarantees opening up a casino off tribal land in East Windsor won’t violate its current compacts with the state for their casinos in southeastern Connecticut. Because those casinos are on tribal land they fall under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
On Sept. 15, in identical letters received both by Mohegan Tribal Chairman Kevin Brown and Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Chairman Rodney Butler, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Indian Affairs Michael Black, wrote that approval of the amendment was “premature and likely unnecessary.”
However, the legislation Connecticut passed authorizing the two tribes to build a third casino off tribal land in East Windsor sought approval from the Department of Interior before it can move forward. The East Windsor casino was expected to head off traffic to the new $950 million MGM casino being built in Springfield, Mass. That casino is expected to open in the fall of 2018.
“The Amendment addresses the exclusivity provisions of the Gaming Compact,” Black wrote. “We find that there is insufficient information upon which to make a decision as to whether a new casino operated by (the tribes) would or would not violate the exclusivity clauses of the Gaming Compact. The Tribes have entered an agreement with the State whereby they have agreed that the exclusivity provisions will not be breached by this arrangement. Therefore, our action is unnecessary at this time.”
In their Nov. 2 letter, Blumenthal, Murphy, and Courtney said the third casino does not fall under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and does not need approval from the Department of Interior.
“However, in order to clarify that the proposed third casino operation would not implicate the existing compact provisions, the Tribes and the State determined that it would be in the best interests of the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan Tribes along with the state of Connecticut for the compact language to be amended,” they wrote.
The only desire is to clarify that the third casino would not affect the existing agreements between the state and the tribes.
“Department of Interior approval would merely continue this beneficial Tribal-State relationship,” they wrote.
The Department of Interior did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
MGM Resorts International, which is close to opening a casino in Springfield, Mass. and has pitched one for Bridgeport, said the letter provides no new information and doesn’t detail the risk.
“Today’s letter raises no new issues and provides no new information that would change the Department of the Interior’s decision not to approve the Tribes’ submissions,” Uri Clinton, senior vice president and legal counsel for MGM, said Tuesday. “It also does not address the risks to the state of proceeding with MMCT’s proposed casino without Interior approval that have been emphasized by Attorney General Jepsen’s office.”
MMCT is the joint business venture formed by the tribes to build the East Windsor casino.
Clinton said just last week the Attorney General’s office reiterated their warning against proceeding with the East Windsor casino without obtaining the Interior Department’s permission.
“We have consistently warned against proceeding with a jointly owned tribal casino off of tribal land without first having approval from the Department of the Interior,” Jaclyn Severance, director of communications for the Attorney General’s office said. “We continue to think doing so poses grave potential risks to the state of Connecticut.”
She added that “Federal regulations are clear that compact amendments are of no legal effect unless and until the Department of the Interior publishes its approval of the amendments in the Federal Register.”