WASHINGTON (CN) — Federal regulatory delays have put plans for a new casino in Connecticut in limbo, the state and its two federally recognized tribal nations claim in a federal complaint.
The Mohegan Tribal Nation and the Mashantucket Pequots have operated their own casinos — the Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods, respectively — for more than 20 years, but their new venture would be jointly operated and operate off tribal lands.
To ensure that the new facility in East Windsor won’t disturb their revenue-sharing agreement with the state, the tribes asked the U.S. government in July to approve amended versions of their tribal-state gaming compacts.
Represented attorneys at the Washington firm Dentons and the Portland, Maine-based Drummond Woodsum, the tribes joined Connecticut’s attorney general on Wednesday in a federal complaint under the Indian Gaming Regulator Act.
The complaint says Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke had 45 days to rule on the amendments, after which time the amendments would be “deemed approved” and formally entered in the Federal Register.
This was supposed to happen within 90 days of Zinke’s receipt of the amendments, however, and that clock ran out last month.
“Instead, then Acting Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Michael S. Black sent the plaintiffs substantially identical letters dated September 15, 2017, 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.”
Connecticut has said the government’s handling of the amendments is perplexing.
“State law requires that these compact amendments are in fact approved,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Wednesday. “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.”
Noting that thousands of Connecticut residents are employed at the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot’s existing casinos, Malloy and Attorney General George Jepsen emphasized Connecticut’s strong ties to the tribes.
“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,” Jepsen said.
Construction of a third Connecticut casino in East Windsor is geared at heading 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. It’s been lobbying Connecticut to create a process that would allow them to build a casino in Bridgeport. In September they announced a proposal to build a $675 million MGM resort casino in Bridgeport.
Decades before his White House bid, President Donald Trump had tried to open a casino in the same city.
Trump now controls the Department of Interior, which oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The White House has not responded to emails requesting 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.”