HARTFORD, CT — Attorney General George Jepsen and the state’s two federally recognized tribal nations are suing U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke for failing to rule on amendments to the tribal gaming compact they submitted in July.
The Mohegan Tribal Nation and the Mashantucket Pequots are looking to make sure jointly opening a casino off their reservations in East Windsor won’t disturb the current slot revenue sharing agreement they’ve had with the state for more than 20 years.
The lawsuit contends that because the federal agency did not act on the amendments within 45 days of their submission, as required under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), the amendments are deemed approved by the operation of law and the court should require the department to publish notice of their approval in the Federal Register.
The amendment the tribes submitted in July allows the two tribes to share slot revenue with the state of Connecticut under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
“The State of Connecticut over the years has maintained a longstanding partnership and compact with the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribal nations, and they employ thousands of Connecticut residents at their casinos,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Wednesday. “State law requires that these compact amendments are in fact approved. That’s why I have asked the Attorney General to file this action. We need clarity and certainty with respect to this issue. In addition, we are also seeking to compel the Secretary of the Interior to publish notice of approval of the amendments in the Federal Register, which is necessary in order for the amendments to be legally effective and enforceable.”
Federal law requires the secretary to conduct a review of the amendments and approve or disapprove them within 45 days of their submission. If there is no affirmative decision at the end of 45 days, the amendments are deemed approved by operation of law.
IGRA requires the secretary to publish a notice of the approval — whether it is an affirmative approval or a deemed approval — in the Federal Register within 90 days of the date the amendments were received by the federal agency.
“My role with respect to these issues continues to be, and will be in this lawsuit, ensuring that the interests of the State of Connecticut are preserved,” Attorney General George Jepsen said.
According to the complaint, the secretary failed to affirmatively approve or disapprove of the amendments within 45 days.
“Instead, then Acting Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Michael S. Black (the “Acting Assistant Secretary”) sent the Plaintiffs substantially identical letters dated September 15, 2017 (hereinafter referred to as the “September 15, 2017 Letters”) in which the Department purported to ‘return’ the compact amendments to Plaintiffs,” the complaint states. “Returning a compact amendment submitted for approval is not one of the options allowed to the Secretary under IGRA or its implementing regulations.”
The state of Connecticut has been perplexed by Black’s letter and the lack of action by the department.
The complaint says the secretary was “required to perform the ministerial act of publishing notice of that deemed approval in the Federal Register on or before October 31, 2017, within 90 days from the date that the Office of Indian Gaming received the compact amendments.”
That hasn’t happened, which is why the state and the tribes filed the lawsuit late Wednesday.
The reason the two tribes want to build a third Connecticut casino in East Windsor is to head off traffic to the new MGM Resorts International casino being built in Springfield, Mass.
MGM Resorts International signed a deal with Springfield that says it won’t build another casino within a 50 mile radius. MGM has been lobbying Connecticut to create a process that would allow them to build a casino in Bridgeport and in September they announced a proposal to build a $675 million resort casino there.
That’s the same city where, decades ago, Donald Trump, who is now president, wanted to open a casino. Trump now controls the Department of Interior, which oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The White House press department did not immediately respond to emailed requests for comment.
“This has been a long process and through every step along the way, we kept DOI informed about our intentions and were clear about exactly what we were asking them to do,” Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council Chairman Rodney Butler said. “But despite this good faith effort and repeated assurances by the department, their failure to publish our approval letter has forced us to take this action.”
Mohegan Tribal Chairman Kevin Brown said the failure of the department to take action “sets a very dangerous precedent for Indian Country across the United States. The law is clear — after 45 days DOI did not disapprove our compact amendments, therefore it is deemed approved. By not doing so, the department is in clear violation of federal law.”