Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke joins local Boy Scouts in rebuilding a fence at the Manassas National Battlefield in Virginia on November 10, 2017. Photo: Secretary Zinke

Tribes hit roadblocks as Trump team refuses to sanction new gaming agreements

The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and the Mohegan Tribe are wondering why the Trump administration has failed to take action on their new gaming agreements.

The tribes submitted the Class III agreements to the Bureau of Indian Affairs on August 2. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act requires the agency to provide a response within 45 days yet there's been no official action, long after the September 15 deadline.

Instead, the Trump team in late October asked the tribes for more information -- something the BIA has never done in the past when it comes to gaming compacts. While The Connecticut Mirror was unable to get the Department of the Interior to explain the delay, a Halloween Day letter offers some insight.

According to the letter, which was sent by the tribes' legal teams, Secretary Ryan Zinke expressed concerns about "indirectly facilitating the operation of a commercial gaming facility." The tribes are indeed planning on opening a commercial casino in Connecticut under provisions of state law.

But that has never been an issue in the past either, the tribes noted. During the George W. Bush administration, the BIA approved two compacts that addressed commercial gaming operations in Oklahoma, the October 31 letter states.

"In addition, in the nearly 30 years since IGRA was enacted, neither the Department nor the National Indian Gaming Commission (which has authority to enforce requirements) has ever taken the position that tribes legally operating commercial gaming facilities under state law are somehow "circumventing" IGRA or its requirements for tribal gaming on newly acquired trust or restricted fee lands no doubt because there is absolutely nothing in IGRA or its implementing regulations that would justify such a position," the tribes said.

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

So what's the holdup? The Mirror suggests a fierce lobbying campaign by MGM Resorts International, a non-Indian commercial gaming company with strong ties to Nevada, has something to do with it.

A staffer for Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Nevada), who has expressed concerns about the new Connecticut casino, admitted as much. “MGM is an employer in Nevada, and we want to make sure the BIA does the right thing,” a spokesperson for the Congressman told The Mirror.

MGM has a big reason to lobby against the Connecticut casino. The firm has invested nearly $1 billion in a commercial casino in neighboring Massachusetts.

The tribes are planning to open their casino in East Windsor, Connecticut. The site is only 13 miles from the MGM casino, which is due to open in late 2018.

Even though their agreements are in limbo, the tribes plan to start work on the facility by the end of the year, The Hartford Courant reported. They hope to open the project by the end of 2018 as well.

In the meantime, the tribes are “looking at all of their options” when it comes to the delayed gaming agreements, a spokesperson for their joint casino venture told The Mirror. Litigation is a possibility.

Read More on the Story:
New CT casino falls prey to lobbying blitz and Trump policy (The Connecticut Mirror November 9, 2017)

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