Connecticut Tribes Receive Support for Satellite Casino from Bureau of Indian Affairs

Posted on: May 16, 2017, 01:00h. 

Last updated on: May 16, 2017, 11:18h.

Two Connecticut tribes should be permitted to construct a casino on off-reservation land in the north-central part of the state. That’s according to the US Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), which recently issued a letter of support for the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribal nations.

Connecticut tribes Bureau of Indian Affairs
Mohegan Chairman Kevin Brown (left) and Mashantucket Pequot Chairman Rodney Butler (right) are all smiles after the Bureau of Indian Affairs expressed support for the Connecticut tribes’ wishes to collaborate on a new gaming facility. (Image: AP)

The tribes are jointly petitioning the state for authorization to build a third Connecticut casino in East Windsor, a town just a few miles south of the Massachusetts border. They say the new casino is vital to keep gambling dollars from flowing north to MGM Springfield. The $950 million resort is under construction, and expected to open in the fall of 2018.

At issue is whether or not a non-tribal land casino, even one operated by the tribes, would violate their own exclusive gaming rights in Connecticut.

The BIA explains in its letter that the federal agency doesn’t make decisions or advisory assessments for state governments regarding the legality of tribal compacts. However, bureau officials did opine that the Mashantucket and Mohegans didn’t appear to be in jeopardy of violating current revenue-sharing agreements with the state should Connecticut allow the satellite casino to move forward.

“Receiving this confirmation from the BIA provides a huge boost for our project,” Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Chairman Rodney Butler said in a statement. “The choice now is simple. We can do nothing … or we can compete, and do right by the hard-working families in our state.”

MGM Counters

MGM Resorts, the strongest opponent of plans for a third casino in Connecticut, argues that if the state wants to authorize one on non-tribal land, the bidding should be open to the public.

MGM Senior VP Uri Clinton told the state’s Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee last month that his company would be interested in building a casino in the southern part of Connecticut. Some politicians called MGM’s purported interest a bluff, saying the Nevada-based conglomerate simply wants to protect the regional dominance it’s trying to create around its soon-to-be-opened Springfield resort.

Clinton was quick to dismiss the BIA letter.

“This is not news, it’s a hoax,” Clinton responded. “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.”

Win for Tribes

Regardless of its merit, the BIA letter provides the Connecticut tribes with rhetorical ammunition for persuading uncertain state legislators to support their expansion efforts. And it comes at the perfect time.

Just last week, US Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) wrote his view opposing the third tribal gaming facility. In his letter, the longtime politician, who helped craft the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) in 1988, voiced concerns that the proposal would effectively void the state’s current gaming compacts with the tribes.

“As a principal author of IGRA, I have grave objections about the apparent circumvention of over 25 years of Indian gaming law,” the senator wrote.

If the tribes hope to have their new casino in time to fight for customers headed to MGM Springfield, time is growing critical. Three weeks remain for the Connecticut General Assembly to pass an authorization bill before the legislature adjourns until next year.