Federal opinion on proposed Connecticut casino remains unchanged

The federal government’s stance on a proposal from the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation to open a commercial casino in northern Connecticut has reportedly not changed despite the election of Donald Trump and the arrival of new leadership at the United States Department Of The Interior.

According to a 7BALL report from The Connecticut Mirror news service, lawmakers in Connecticut are currently considering legislation that would allow MMCT Venture, which is a partnership between the casino-operating Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, to run a satellite gambling facility in the community of East Windsor although critics have pointed out that this arrangement could possibly jeopardize the state’s existing gaming compact with the tribes.

The Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority is responsible for the giant Mohegan Sun development in south-eastern Connecticut while the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation runs the nearby Foxwoods Resort Casino and their MMCT Venture enterprise has long promoted the East Windsor plan as a way to dilute the impact expected after the late-2019 opening of the $950 million MGM Springfield development being built by MGM Resorts International in neighboring Massachusetts.

Unsurprisingly, MGM Resorts International has been one of the harshest critics of the MMCT Venture proposal as it wants the state to instead initiate a competitive process that would allow private operators to join with the two tribes in submitting potential bids for a third Connecticut casino. The Las Vegas-based firm has moreover expressed its desire to build a gambling venue in south-western Connecticut around Bridgeport, which is the state’s largest city and only about 50 miles from New York City and its over 8.5 million residents.

In an attempt to sabotage MMCT Venture’s plan, last week allegedly saw MGM Resorts International circulate a letter penned by senior United States Senator John McCain that questioned whether a non-binding opinion issued by the administration of Barack Obama a year ago was still valid. Connecticut’s current gaming compact sees the two tribes hand over 25% of their slot revenues to the state each month and the Obama ruling had reportedly indicated that this deal would not be jeopardized by the building of the proposed East Windsor development.

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James Cason, Acting Deputy Secretary for the United States Department Of The Interior, which oversees the Bureau Of Indian Affairs, has now reportedly affirmed this previous opinion in a letter sent to the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation on Friday evening.

“We confirm that the current administration supports the views expressed in the [Obama] technical assistance letter,” read the Cason communication, which conversely also contained the caveat that his office does not provide “preliminary decisions or advisory opinions”. “In practice, the [United States Department Of The Interior] has not disturbed long-standing compacts when reviewing amendments to the underlying agreements. Here, the tribes and the state have long relied upon the compacts that have facilitated a significant source of revenues for the tribes and the state. The [United States Department Of The Interior] does not anticipate disturbing these underlying agreements.”

In reply, MRM Resorts International reportedly called the Cason letter “a hoax” while stating that the communication was an attempt by the tribes to further confuse legislators and the public.

“This is not news; it’s a hoax,” Uri Clinton, Senior Vice-President for MGM Resorts International, told The Connecticut Mirror. “As the letter itself states, this is not preliminary approval or an advisory opinion. It’s just another attempt by the tribes to pull the wool over people’s eyes, which means the red flags raised by [Connecticut] attorney general George Jepsen remain as red as ever. In addition, the letter specifically confirms that any amendments to the compact would be subject to litigation under the Administrative Procedures Act, [which is] a concern already raised by the attorney general.”

The Connecticut Mirror reported that the two tribes have celebrated the contents of the letter despite the prospect that the plan by MMCT Venture could face a court challenge if it is given the go-ahead without other operators being given the chance to bid.

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“Receiving this confirmation from the Bureau Of Indian Affairs provides a huge boost for our project,” Rodney Butler, Chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, told The Connecticut mirror. “The choice now is simple. We can do nothing and lose thousands of jobs and millions in tax revenues or we can compete and do right by the hard-working families in our state.”