Artist's rendering of a proposed gaming facility in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Image: MGM Resorts International

Connecticut tribes can't get clear answer from Trump team on bid for new casino

Efforts by Connecticut's two federally recognized tribes to open a new casino appear to have hit a snag within the Trump administration.

The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and the Mohegan Tribe don't need federal approval for their project because it has been authorized under state law. But they have asked the Bureau of Indian Affairs to confirm that the new facility won't affect their existing gaming rights, specifically their exclusive rights to Class III games like slot machines.

The BIA, though, is unwilling to do that, at least at this point, The New London Day reported. A September 15 letter quoted by the paper said the agency can't pass judgment right now due to "insufficient information" about the matter.

"We find that there is insufficient information upon which to make a decision as to whether a new casino operated by (the tribes) would or would not violate the exclusivity clauses of the gaming compact," Mike Black, the "acting" Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, told the tribes, the paper reported. "The tribes have entered an agreement with the state whereby they have agreed that the exclusivity provisions will not be breached by this arrangement. Therefore, our action is unnecessary at this time."

The tribes have been confident that the BIA would sanction their initiative amid questions raised by some politicians in Connecticut. In June, they made a huge public showing at the mid-year conference of the National Congress of American Indians by presenting a blanket to Jim Cason, a senior Trump administration official at the Department of the Interior.

“Jim Cason has been there for us ... to ensure that our forward movement, our economic development, our partnership as tribes is respected,” Mohegan Chairman Kevin Brown said at the time.

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

But as the letter indicates, the BIA's support may not be necessary. Even if the new casino impacts the tribes' existing rights, the only parties with the ability to complain are the tribes and the state. They have all agreed, in writing, not to do that.

The tribes are planning to build the casino in East Windsor, a city far from their existing reservations and existing casinos. They chose the site because it's only about 13 miles from Springfield, Massachusetts, where building a $950 million commercial facility is due to open a year from now.

MGM Resorts International, the non-Indian developer of the Springfield project, has been trying to stop the tribes from pursuing their new casinos but has been unsuccessful in the court system. The firm is now proposing a $675 million resort in Bridgeport, which would require state approval.

“Simply put, authorization of this facility would violate the existing compacts between the two tribes and the state which would immediately end the slot payments that currently sends the state hundreds of million a year in much need revenue," a spokesperson for the Mashantucket and Mohegan tribes told The Connecticut Post. "Our state's elected officials saw through their dishonesty last session, and we expect them to see this latest fib for exactly what it is - another bought and paid for piece of misinformation.”

Read More on the Story:
Blumenthal calls for definitive federal action on state-tribe gaming amendments (The New London Day September 18, 2017)
MGM gambles on Bridgeport with new casino plan (The Connecticut Post September 18, 2017)
MGM pitches Bridgeport casino as feds delay tribes’ expansion (The Connecticut Mirror September 18, 2017)
MGM Announces Plan for Waterfront Casino in Bridgeport (The Hartford Courant September 18, 2017)
MGM pitches $600 million casino in Bridgeport, Connecticut as tribal gaming operators cry foul (MassLive.Com September 18, 2017)
MGM gambles on Bridgeport with new casino plan (The Connecticut Post September 18, 2017)
MGM Planning New Resort Casino For Bridgeport (The Bridgeport Daily Voice September 18, 2017)
MGM Resorts Proposes $675 Million Casino in Bridgeport (The Wall Street Journal September 18, 2017)

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