Artist's rendering of a proposed casino to be jointly operated by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and the Mohegan Tribe in East Windsor, Connecticut. Image: Teeton Architects / CT Jobs Matter

Connecticut tribes enlist former Bureau of Indian Affairs official

Two former Department of the Interior officials who once worked together are on opposite sides of a gaming debate in Connecticut.

On one side is George Skibine, a former top official at the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He's been hired by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and the Mohegan Tribe to help them make the case for a third casino in the state.

On the other side is Ken Salazar, who served as Secretary of the Interior from 2005 through 2009. He's working for MGM Resorts International, a non-Indian firm that opposes the new development.

Skibine, a citizen of the Osage Nation who left Interior in 2011, was in charge of Indian gaming for most of his tenure at the BIA. He and the tribes are disputing Salazar's claims that a third casino would violate existing Class III gaming compacts in the state.

“I would humbly submit that he (Salazar) probably didn’t review one gaming compact himself,” Mohegan Chairman Kevin Brown said at a public hearing on the casino on Thursday, The New London Day reported. “He had people do it for him.”

The New England Casino Race: Tribal and commercial gaming facilities in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island

As Interior's top official, Salazar most likely was was briefed on gaming compacts and gave his views on them. That's significant because the Obama administration started taking a closer look at the agreements to ensure they are fair to tribes.

"The tribes’ anticipated course of action in connection with the bill, which includes seeking Interior Department approval of amendments to the existing tribal-state gaming compacts, presents substantial risks to the state," Salazar wrote in testimony to lawmakers. A letter offering similar views was shared with the media on Tuesday ahead of the hearing on the casino bill, known as SB 957.

The two tribes want the state's approval for the new casino because they are seeking to operate it outside of the framework of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. They have chosen a site in East Windsor, which will not be placed in trust, in order to compete with a $950 million MGM facility that's going up in Springfield, Massachusetts.

East Windsor is only about 13 miles from Springfield and the tribes believe they can have a $300 facility up and running well before MGM debuts its facility in late 2018.

Read More on the Story:
Tribes, MGM seek upper hand at hearing on third-casino bills (The New London Day 3/9)
Lawmakers Try To Calculate The Odds Of A New Casino (CT News Junkie 3/9)
Gambling Supporters Say Casino Expansion In Other States Threatens Connecticut's Casinos (The Hartford Courant 3/9)
Lawmakers Split On Proposed Third Casino For Connecticut (WSHU 3/9)
Campaign for casino expansion approaches a crossroads (The Connecticut Mirror 3/9)
Legislator asks for independent analysis of casino expansion (The Connecticut Mirror 3/9)
MGM storms Hartford to fight competitor casino proposal in East Windsor and push for competition (MassLive 3/9)
Contested public hearing Thursday for proposed third CT casino (Fox61 3/9)
Bridgeport casino still in play (The Connecticut Post 3/9)

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