Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, center, is served an Indian taco by Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs John Tahsuda, in visor, at the Department of the Interior cafeteria in Washington, D.C, on November 7, 2017. Photo: Secretary Zinke

Lawmakers join tribes in pressing Trump team for firm response on new casino

Lawmakers from Connecticut are supporting the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and the Mohegan Tribe as they seek a firm response from the Trump administration on plans for a new casino.

A November 2 letter posted by CT News Junkie calls on Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to take action. Three lawmakers, all Democrats, say the Bureau of Indian Affairs has effectively accepted an update to the tribes' existing gaming agreements and must publish notice of the decision in the Federal Register.

According to the lawmakers, "publication would fulfill the department's tribal trust responsibility by continuing the current relationship between the tribes and the state of Connecticut," the letter reads.

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

To obtain confirmation, the tribes submitted requests to the BIA on August 2. Under IGRA, the agency had 45 days to review the request, so the deadline to respond was September 15.

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

The BIA indeed responded on that date, by saying it lacked enough information to make a call, according to a copy of a letter posted by CT News Junkie. But the tribes pointed out that IGRA doesn't allow such an option.

"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," a subsequent letter to Associate Deputy Secretary Jim Cason, a key aide to Secretary Zinke, stated. The October 31 letter was posted by The Connecticut Mirror.

Since the BIA failed to provide a clear answer, the agreements are considered to be "deemed approved" by IGRA. Yet the Trump administration has not published notice of that action despite doing so in a similar situation in New Mexico.

The Mashantucket and Mohegan 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:
Connecticut Officials Push For Approval of Tribal Amendments (CT News Junkie November 7, 2017)
Congressional Delegation Presses Federal Regulators On East Windsor Casino Approval (The Hartford Courant November 8, 2017)
U.S. lawmakers join call for federal approval of gaming compact amendments (The New London Day November 7, 2017)
CT lawmakers push for feds to OK tribal compact amendments (The Hartford Business Journal November 8, 2017)

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