HARTFORD, CT — It’s taken more than a year, a lawsuit, and an investigation, but the U.S. Department of Interior is expected to green light changes to the tribal gaming compact that will allow an East Windsor casino to move forward.
The notice for changes to the Mohegan Tribal Nation’s compact with Connecticut is expected to be published Friday in the Federal Register.
“The Secretary took no action on the Amendment to the compact between the Mohegan Tribe of Indians of Connecticut and the State of Connecticut within 45 days of its submission. Therefore, the Amendment is considered to have been approved, but only to the extent the Amendment is consistent with IGRA,” the draft language reads.
IGRA is the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
“We are pleased that the department is taking this step and we expect similar action on the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal amendments in the very near future,” Andrew Doba, a spokesman for MMCT the joint tribal venture, said. “Our goal has never changed. We want to do right by Connecticut and to preserve the strong relationship between our tribal nations and the state. Today’s decision is the latest step in our overall goal to preserve thousands of good paying jobs and millions in state tax revenue.”
The two tribes submitted the amendments to their agreements with the state to the Interior Department last July. In November, the state of Connecticut and the two tribes sued the Interior Department to force them to issue a ruling.
That lawsuit contended 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, 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 — a final step in the process.
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.
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.
As recently as this April, the Interior’s inspector general began investigating the department’s handling of the tribes’ casino application after Connecticut lawmakers asked the internal watchdog to look into the matter, according to Politico.
U.S. Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal were concerned that the agency’s inaction on the amendments followed lobbying campaign from MGM Resorts International, which is set to open a casino in Springfield, Mass. this summer.
The East Windsor casino is being built by the two federally recognized tribes in an effort to compete with MGM’s Springfield casino, a few miles from the Connecticut border.
MGM was unsuccessful in getting Connecticut to open its bidding process for a fourth casino in Bridgeport. The legislation passed the House by five votes, but stalled on the Senate calendar.
In a statement Thursday, MGM said it the decision to print the notice in the Federal Register “raises more questions than it answers. The notice provides no supporting reasoning and contradicts not only the Interior Department’s prior ruling, but also the clear limits on off-reservation gaming imposed by federal law.”
They added: A”fter consulting with our attorneys, we can find no legal justification for the Interior Department’s unprecedented action. In an effort to shed light on these serious legal questions, MGM will file a Freedom of Information Act request to uncover the process and inputs that led to today’s notice.”
MGM said it remained committed to “a transparent process that would give all parties an equal opportunity to compete in Connecticut. We believe our proposed world-class entertainment complex in Bridgeport is the best option for creating new jobs and revenue, and we will vigorously advocate for our legal rights—including by challenging Public Act 17-89’s unconstitutional no-bid scheme— if that is what it takes to prevail.”
Earlier this week when MGM announced it had purchased the Empire City Casino in Yonkers, New York, it said in a statement it was still interested in a Bridgeport casino.