MGM Resorts Cannot Intervene in Connecticut Tribal Casino Decision: Department of Interior Weighs In

Posted on: March 10, 2018, 09:30h. 

Last updated on: October 5, 2018, 12:12h.

MGM Resorts is a commercial casino operator, and thus has no legal grounds to weigh in on Connecticut tribal gaming matters: that’s the view of the Department of the Interior (DOI). In filings submitted to the US District Court in Washington, DC, this week, DOI Secretary Ryan Zinke said the federal agency opposes MGM Resorts’ “motion for leave to intervene.”

MGM Resorts Connecticut casino DOI
Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has opined that commercial operators like MGM Resorts shouldn’t have a say in tribal casino discussions, such as those that are ongoing in Connecticut. But the tribes involved, along with the state itself, have sued the department to force its own hand in the complicated matter. (Image: Gage Skidmore/Wikipedia Creative Commons)

A motion to intervene is submitted by a party not directly involved in a lawsuit, but that wants to have a voice in it. In order to meet that criteria, the motion must involve a party with a direct interest in the outcome of the suit.

The State of Connecticut, along with the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes, are suing the DOI, in an effort to force the department to make a definitive ruling. All three parties agree that MGM has no business involving itself in the East Windsor casino dilemma.

Connecticut and its two Native American tribes are looking for the DOI to endorse revised gaming compacts that allow the Mashantucket and Mohegan to jointly construct a $300 million satellite gaming facility on non-sovereign land. The proposed East Windsor, Connecticut, site is just 13 miles south from where the $960 million MGM Springfield casino resort in Massachusetts will open this September.

Demolition work on the East Windsor casino site began this week.

Complex Issues

Connecticut lawmakers and Governor Dannel Malloy (D) authorized the East Windsor casino on condition that the DOI recognize that the updated gaming compacts do not threaten the tribes’ obligation to continue sharing 25 percent of their gross slot revenue at their Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos with the state. The legislation, which has already been signed into law, only allows the satellite facility to commence gaming operations when a formal endorsement comes from the Department of the Interior.

The DOI has sent mixed messages, with the department most recently saying last fall that it lacked sufficient information to make a definitive conclusion.

At hand is whether the state allowing the tribes to move off reservation and build a casino on recently acquired land jeopardizes previous compacts that declare the Native American groups aren’t required to share gaming revenue if Connecticut authorizes commercial gambling. MGM contends that’s essentially what the East Windsor casino is, a commercial property, as the venue will not be on sovereign acreage.

Waiting for Next Move

MGM Resorts has proposed a $675 million casino resort in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and called on state lawmakers to void the East Windsor license and open a competitive bidding process.

Critics of the proposal suggest MGM is only trying to delay the East Windsor facility to allow its Springfield resort to open with the largest gaming radius monopoly possible.

The DOI and its Bureau of Indian Affairs say a commercial gaming operator has no claim or defense to involve itself with tribal matters, as the Connecticut casino decision is one that primarily falls under the guidelines of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).

Connecticut officials and the tribes agree, but add IGRA requires the DOI to affirmatively approve or disapprove a compact amendment within 45 days of receipt, a term which is now long past. That inaction, in turn, spurred the lawsuit against the federal agency.