Connecticut Tribe Appealing Federal Non-Decision on Casino

Connecticut Tribe Appealing Federal Non-Decision on Casino

The Mashantucket Pequot Native American tribes of Connecticut is appealing a court ruling that would effectively block their plans to build a joint venture casino and entertainment complex.

The Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes are seeking to build a $300 million entertainment complex in East Winsor that would include a casino. The ongoing saga regarding the project has included several setbacks, starting with the Interior Secretary refusing to sign off on a necessary agreement.

The most recent setback follows the tribe’s lawsuit, compelling Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to approve the agreement, being dismissed by a federal judge. For the joint venture, spokesperson Andrew Doba said:

“We started this process because thousands of people will lose their jobs and the state will lose millions in revenue if we fail to compete with MGM in Massachusetts. We are obviously disappointed with the court’s ruling and are currently reviewing our options. We remain committed to both seeing this process through and to the people of Connecticut and our partners in state government.”

The Fight to Approve The Complex

The initial cause of debate came when Interior Zinke refused to sign off on the project. The Mashantucket Pequot tribe alleges that Nevada lawmakers and MGM resorts was improperly influenced Zinke, leading to a decision that “was the product of improper political influence and was therefore ‘arbitrary and capricious.’”

What Connecticut and the Mashantucket Pequot tribe needed Zinke to sign off on was revisions to the state’s existing gambling agreement with the tribe, which would guarantee the complex wouldn’t jeopardize the state’s revenue sharing deal with the current two tribal casinos (run by the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes respectively).

The tribe filed suit against Zinke, but was dismissed in a 58-page report by Judge Randolph Contreras of the US District Court of the District of Columbia. Additionally, he authorized MGM the right to intervene should Connecticut and/or the tribes appeal his ruling.

MGM issued a statement following Contreras, stating their approval of the dismissal of the lawsuit.

“The thorough and unambiguous federal court ruling can only be seen as a clear rejection of the Tribes’ insistent efforts to obtain a no-bid commercial casino license in Connecticut. It has become increasingly apparent that the Tribes’ promises of legal victory, no matter how often they are repeated, prove hollow.”

MGM has yet to respond to the Mashantucket Pequot’s appeal, but the tribe is not appealing the decision alone. The state of Connecticut will also be backing the tribe in their lawsuit to get approval of the new casino and complex.

Reading Between the Lines

The fight might not be dragging on as long as it is had the Interior Department not announced their plans to approve the agreement. According to the filing by the tribe, officials had informed the joint venture that “that the Department had prepared draft approval letters.” This occurred on September 8th, 2017, but a week later, the department reversed course and returned the documents with no action taken.

In emails obtained by Politico in April, the decision to reject the proposal didn’t come until within 48 hours of the application’s decision being handed down. Until then, emails had been circulating the federal office containing “the edited letters for Pequot and Mohegan,” with files that were referred to as “draft approvl” letters.

The Mashantucket Pequot tribe maintains that Senator Dean Heller and Representative Mark Amodei, both Republicans from Nevada, improperly influenced Zinke in late July of 2017. The tribe amended their complaint to include such allegations.

The proposed joint venture complex would be roughly 12 miles away from a new MGM casino in Springfield, Massachusetts. Because of the revenue sharing agreement in Connecticut, the Native American tribes own the exclusive rights to gambling in the state. However, the new MGM casino stands to significantly cut into the profits of the existing casinos in Connecticut, which in turn cuts into the revenue shared with the state of Connecticut.

The new east Winsor complex could have helped to decrease the profit losses, being in close proximity to the MGM casino. MGM countered by lobbying to the Interior Department, arguing that the Interior was under no obligation to approve such a plan.

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