Former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar appears before the Navajo Nation Council in Window Rock, Arizona, on October 20, 2009. Photo: Tami A. Heilemann / U.S. Department of the Interior

Tribes spar with Obama's former Interior secretary over new casino in Connecticut

The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and the Mohegan Tribe are still waiting to hear from the Trump administration about plans for a new casino in Connecticut.

The tribes already won approval under state law to open the casino. Although they are pursuing it outside of the framework of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, they have asked the Bureau of Indian Affairs to confirm that the project doesn't infringe on their existing gaming rights.

So far, the response from the Trump team has been murky, with a letter from the BIA saying it didn't have enough information to make a firm call. But it also appears the tribes have not yet formally submitted their request to the Department of the Interior, the parent agency of the BIA.

“DOI did not reject our application," a spokesperson for MM4CT Venture, the tribe's joint vehicle for pursuing the casino, told CT News Junkie.

Meanwhile, the tribes are battling a big name as they wait for the word from Washington, D.C. It's Ken Salazar, who served as Secretary of the Interior under former president Barack Obama.

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

Salazar, an attorney with the WilmerHale law and lobbying shop, is working for MGM Resorts International, a non-Indian firm that's trying to stop the tribes from opening the new casino. He is claiming that the tribes are attempting to circumvent the role of the federal government, CT News Junkie reported.

“I understand that the [tribes] may seek to move forward with an off-reservation casino in East Windsor notwithstanding the Interior’s decision,” Salazar wrote in a letter to the state's attorney general, CT News Junkie reported.

Andrew Doba, the spokesperson for MM4CT Venture, called the claim claim “false” and a “lie," CT News Junkie reported.

MGM has a big reason to fight the tribes -- the firm is opening a $950 million commercial casino just across the state line in Massachusetts. The tribes plan to open their new casino in East Windsor, only about 13 miles from MGM's site.

During his tenure at Interior, Salazar presented himself as more friendly to tribes than the prior George W. Bush administration. The BIA reversed policies that make it harder for tribes to acquire new lands, including those for casinos.

Read More on the Story:
Tribal Spokesman Denies Claims To Bypass Indian Affairs (CT News Junkie October 25, 2017)
Tribal gaming's share of U.S. casino revenue seen growing (The New London Day October 23, 2017)

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