Jim Cason, the Associate Deputy Secretary at the Department of the Interior, is presented with a blanket by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and the Mohegan Tribe during the National Congress of American Indians mid-year conference at Mohegan Sun on the Mohegan Reservation in Connecticut on June 13, 2017. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Tribes seek stronger response from Trump team on new casino in Connecticut

The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and the Mohegan Tribe honored a top Trump administration official just a few months ago but their gesture doesn't seem to have helped plans for a new casino in Connecticut.

The tribes are pursuing the development outside of the framework of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act so federal approval is not needed. However, they have asked the Bureau of Indian Affairs to confirm that the project doesn't infringe on their existing casinos, which they are operating pursuant to IGRA.

According to an October 31 letter posted by The Connecticut Mirror, the tribes submitted their request to the Department of the Interior, the parent agency of the BIA, on August 2. Yet there has been no official notice of a decision, as required by IGRA , the tribes said.

"IGRA allows the Secretary only two options once a compact has been submitted for review -- he must either affirmatively approve, or affirmatively disapprove within 45 days of receipt," the letter to Associate Deputy Secretary Jim Cason, a key aide to Secretary Ryan Zinke, stated.

The Trump team indeed provided a response to the tribes in a September 15 letter, a copy of which was posted by CT News Junkie. The letter came 45 days after their original submission, an indication that the BIA was aware of the IGRA timeline.

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

Under typical circumstances, that means the compacts have been "deemed approved." The BIA in fact went the same route with respect to a gaming agreement in New Mexico.

But the new administration appears to be taking a different approach for Connecticut. According to the tribes' letter, Cason asked them for more information after they called on him to publish a notice in the Federal Register, where notices of Class III gaming compacts, -- whether approved, disapproved or deemed approved -- must be published.

The BIA has run into trouble in the same area in the past. In one instance in California, the agency failed to make decisions on four significant compacts within 45 days because they somehow been misplaced in Washington, D.C. Notices were eventually published in the Federal Register well after the deadline.

The situation led to the development of a regulation that governs the submission of gaming compacts. It went into effect during the final days of the George W. Bush administration back in 2009, when Cason was serving in the the same position at Interior he holds now.

The final rule, incidentally, was signed by George Skibine, a citizen of the Osage Nation who at the time was serving as the "Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Economic Development" for the BIA. He is now representing the Mohegan Tribe as an attorney in private practice.

The tribes are planning to open their new casino in East Windsor, a city far from their reservations in the southeastern part of Connecticut. The casino has been approved under state law.

Read More on the Story:
Tribes’ lawyers tell Interior it must accept casino deal (The Connecticut Mirror October 31, 2017)
Tribes Seeking More Definitive Sign From Federal Regulators On Casino Expansion (The Hartford Courant October 31, 2017)
Tribes urge federal response that would pave way for East Windsor casino (The New London Day October 31, 2017)

An Opinion:
Dan Haar: Casino war in chaos as Feds miss deadline for ruling (The Connecticut Post October 31, 2017)

Federal Register Notice:
Class III Tribal State Gaming Compact Process (December 5, 2008)

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