Connecticut Tribes Plead for Alternative Legal Strategy to Build East Windsor Casino

Posted on: May 4, 2018, 04:00h. 

Last updated on: May 4, 2018, 03:37h.

Connecticut’s two tribal operators have urged state lawmakers to let them build an off-reservation casino without federal approval.

Kevin Brown (left) and Rodney Butler, chairmen of the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot
Kevin Brown (left) and Rodney Butler, chairmen of the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot, respectively, are meeting lawmakers to discuss tweaking casino legislation to allow them to proceed on the East Windsor casino project. (Image: Connecticut Post)

The Mohegans and Mashantucket Pequots are suing the Department of the Interior for what they claim is obstructionism over their application for approval of a controversial satellite casino in East Windsor, just miles across the Massachusetts border from where MGM is putting the finishing touches to its $800 million MGM Springfield Resort.

The Connecticut tribes suspect MGM’s lobbyists have a hand in the DOI’s alleged “illegal inaction” over the application. According to documents seen recently by POLITICO, the Bureau of Indian Affairs was circulating “draft approval letters” for the project two days before high level DOI officials apparently stepped in to disrupt the process.

They have waited over a year for a determination, despite the requirement that decisions should be issued within 45 days. The delay has left the tribes in legal limbo as MGM rushes to finish the Springfield project.

AG Opinion Unpalatable

Connecticut passed a law in 2016 authorizing the East Windsor casino, provided the DOI approves changes to the revenue-sharing compact that will arise once the off-reservation project is complete. Now the tribes want the General Assembly to revisit that law and strike the provision that requires federal go-ahead.

“Let’s go back to the beginning and see if there’s a way that we can strip that requirement and move forward,” said Mohegan chairman Kevin Brown, speaking to the Associated Press Wednesday.

The tribes argue there is assumption that the DOI has approved the compact changes by not rejecting them within 45 days. However, a recent legal opinion from Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen said federal approval is necessary to proceed.

Clock is Ticking…

“It’s an opinion, right? And we expect the leaders in the General Assembly to do exactly that, be leaders in a sense, and take that as an opinion and take into consideration what’s in the best interest of the state,” said Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Chairman Rodney Butler to the AP, of the Jepsen ruling.

The two tribal leaders are expected to meet with House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, (D-Berlin) to discuss an alternative legal path for the casino, while at least one lawmaker is pursuing legislation to strike the federal provision.

Time, however, is running out for the tribe and its satellite casino. The Connecticut legislative session ends May 9.