HARTFORD, CT — (Updated 3:30 p.m) Attorney General George Jepsen dealt Connecticut’s two tribes a blow Tuesday when he said that plans to build another tribal casino in East Windsor can’t be met until the U.S. Department of Interior approves the amendment to the existing gaming agreement.
While the state has argued in court the lack of federal action on the amendments to the agreement means they are deemed approved, they don’t believe the state should risk it.
The Interior Department has not acted affirmatively or negatively on the amendments submitted last summer by the state and the two tribes. The state and the tribes sued the federal government in D.C. Circuit Court.
“It remains possible that the court could rule adversely,” Jepsen wrote Tuesday in his opinion to House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz. “To take action on the assumption that the State and the Tribes will succeed in the ongoing litigation would be highly imprudent.”
Lawmakers wanted to know if they could pass legislation that would eliminate federal approval as a condition, but Jepsen opined that “eliminating the federal approval condition would raise risks for the current gaming arrangements with the Tribes about which we have previously opined and continue to have serious concerns.”
That means, MMCT, the joint tribal venture between the Mashantucket Pequots and the Mohegan Tribal Nation, does not have the authority at the moment to build a casino in East Windsor.
“In our opinion, the federal approval condition has not been met,” Jepsen said.
He explained that the federal government neither affirmatively approved nor disapproved the amendments.
“Further, it did not publish in the Federal Register, as required by the regulations, that the amendments were approved, disapproved or deemed approved. The State and the Tribes thereafter jointly filed suit against Interior in the federal district court for the District of Columbia. Connecticut, et al. v. Zinke, et al., No. 1:17-cv-2564- RC. Among other things, the State and the Tribes maintain that the amendments were deemed approved by operation of law and that such approval must be published in the Federal Register. The lawsuit remains pending.”
Aresimowicz and lawmakers also wanted to know what would happen if the Supreme Court finds a ban on sports betting is unconstitutional. Would the tribes have the exclusive right to sports betting too?
Jepsen said it would not affect the existing gaming arrangements with the tribes.
“Sports betting is not listed as an authorized game,” Jepsen said. “By contrast, for example, pari-mutuel betting on horse and dog racing and jai alai games are authorized games. The exclusion of sports betting from the specific list of authorized games is compelling evidence that the Compacts do not presently authorize it.”
Andrew Doba, a spokesman for MMCT, said they agree the Interior Department is “violating the law every day that it fails to publish notice of approval of the compact amendments in the Federal Register, and we share his confidence in our legal position. However, we strongly believe that there is a way to proceed with the project until the legal issues are resolved that protects the state’s revenue under the compacts, and we will continue to discuss the options with state leaders. We hope this matter is put to rest soon so we can take the necessary steps to preserve thousands of jobs and millions in critically important tax revenue.”
MGM Resorts International is still lobbying Connecticut to open bidding for what would be a fourth casino in Bridgeport.
Last week, House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, said the chances a bill to address casino gaming in Connecticut would come up for a vote was slim due to complex and competing issues.
Aresimowicz said that casino expansion and sports betting in Connecticut is a “complex issue that needs to have a comprehensive strategy” before being enacted.
That means the most that may pass this year would be legislation to study the best location for a new casino.