Governor Dannel P. Malloy said the state is teaming up with the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nations in filing a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of the Interior and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke over the agency’s decision not to offer either approval or rejection on the July 20 gaming compact amendments signed by the governor and the tribes.
The amendments are required by state law to authorize joint tribal development of a new casino at East Windsor. Under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the amendments need federal approval or disapproval within 45 days of their submission. If approved, the Interior Department is required to publish its approval notice in the Federal Register.
In September, Michael S. Black, acting assistant secretary for Indian affairs at the Interior Department, sent a letter to the office of Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen stating the department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs was not ready to offer its approval. But Black’s letter also seemed to question whether such approval was necessary.
“We have completed our review of the amendment,” Black wrote. “We return the amendment to you to maintain the status quo as action on the amendment is premature and likely unnecessary. The amendment addresses exclusivity provisions of the gaming compact. We find there is insufficient information upon which to make a decision as to whether a new casino operated by the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot Tribes would or would not violate the exclusivity clauses of the gaming procedures. The tribes have entered into an agreement with the state whereby they have agreed that the exclusivity provisions will not be breached by this arrangement. Therefore, our action is unnecessary at this time.”
The Interior Department offered no further public comment on the issue since Black’s letter. Malloy, however, insisted that a federal signoff was mandated by law.
“State law requires that these compact amendments are in fact approved,” he said in a statement announcing the lawsuit. “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.”
The East Windsor location for the proposed casino was designed to compete against MGM Resorts International’s upcoming casino across the border in Springfield, Massachusetts. In September, MGM Resorts unveiled a proposal to create a casino resort at the Steelpointe Harbor development in Bridgeport, but this would require a change in state law to enable casino ownership by a nontribal entity. Malloy was not publicly enthusiastic over the Bridgeport plan when it was announced, adding, “I can’t imagine any scenario under which the tribal nations would agree to open up the (gaming) compact on those grounds. But perhaps they will.”