Letter raises legal issues for new tribal casinos in Connecticut

Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation Chairman Rodney Butler, left, and Mohegan Tribe Chairman Kevin Brown appeared at a hearing on March 17 to support a bill to authorize more tribally-operated casinos. Photo from CT Jobs Matter

Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen sent a letter to lawmakers on Wednesday that addresses legal issues surrounding a bill to authorize more tribal casinos in the state.

Senate Bill 1090 authorizes the state to enter into agreements with the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and the Mohegan Tribe for as many as three new casinos. The measure was written to ensure that the facilities would not fall under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

"The facilities would not be located on reservation lands and would not involve the federal government taking any lands into trust for the tribes," Jepsen observed in the letter. "The gaming facilities and operations would be subject to state law and regulation."

But Jepsen warned that the new tribal agreements might not carry any force unless they are submitted to the Bureau of Indian Affairs for review. He noted that both tribes are operating their casinos under exclusivity provisions that bar gaming "by any other person and no other person" in the state, a situation that would change if the bill is enacted as written.

At the same time, Jepsen said the bill could be amended to mitigate the uncertainty if the state chooses not to involve the federal government. "Though such provisions may help mitigate the risks associated with the proposed legislation, they would by no means eliminate the risk," he wrote.

On a second issue, Jepsen said the bill could affect the gaming rights of any newly recognized tribes. Although the BIA has rejected petitions from the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation, the Golden Hill Paugussett Tribe and the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation but they might be able to re-apply under Part 83 reforms that are being finalized by the agency.

In 2003, lawmakers outlawed so-called "Las Vegas Nights" with the hope that newly recognized tribes could not invoke their rights under IGRA to engage in the same types of gaming that are allowed under state law. Jepsen said Senate Bill 1090 could reopen the door.

"The enactment of the proposed legislation ... could serve as a new trigger and would significantly increase the likelihood that newly acknowledged tribes would succeed in asserting the right to casino gaming under IGRA," Jepsen wrote.

Jepsen's letter came as the tribes reported another decline in their slot machine revenues. The Mashantucket Tribe saw a 9 percent drop while the Mohegan Tribe saw a slight 1 percent drop.

The tribes fear they will see even more declines once a non-Indian casino opens in neighboring Massachusetts, not far from the Connecticut border. They argue that new facilities will help the state counteract the threat.

Get the Story:
Attorney General Warns That Casino Proposal Has Legal Uncertaintie (The Hartford Courant 4/16)
Pace of casinos' slots-revenues decline slows (The New London Day 4/16)
Attorney General to legislators: Casino expansion poses legal risks (The Connecticut Mirror 4/15)
Jepsen says bill allowing new tribal casinos could face court challenges (AP 4/15)
State casinos post reduced slot revenue for March (AP 4/15)
Old questions, new concerns on keno (The Connecticut Mirror 4/15)

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