From left; Chickasaw Nation Lt. Gov. Jefferson Keel, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, Mohegan Tribe Chairman Kevin Brown, Ohkay Owingeh council member Joe Garcia and Leander "Russ" McDonald, the president of the United Tribes Technical College. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Tribes sue Trump administration for dragging feet on revised gaming agreements

The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and the Mohegan Tribe, along with the state of Connecticut, are suing the Trump administration for failing to take action on their gaming agreements.

The tribes updated their respective Class III gaming agreements with the state and submitted them to Bureau of Indian Affairs for review. Under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the agency has 45 days to make a decision.

But the deadline has long passed and the BIA has yet to publish notice of its decision in the Federal Register. A lawsuit filed in federal court calls on the Department of the Interior, the parent agency of the BIA, to take action.

“This has been a long process and through every step along the way, we kept DOI informed about our intentions and were clear about exactly what we were asking them to do,” Mashantucket Chairman Rodney Butler said in a press release distributed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy (D). “But despite this good faith effort and repeated assurances by the department, their failure to publish our approval letter has forced us to take this action.”

“The Department of the Interior has a responsibility to Native American tribes, and their failure to act on this issue sets a very dangerous precedent for Indian Country across the United States,” added Mohegan Chairman Kevin Brown. “The law is clear – after 45 days DOI did not disapprove our compact amendments, therefore it is deemed approved. By not doing so, the department is in clear violation of federal law.”

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

The tribes updated their agreements to account for their new commercial casino. Though the project does not need federal approval, they worked with the state to ensure that their existing facilities, which are being operated pursuant to IGRA, aren't affected.

The Trump administration, though, has raised doubts. According to the tribes, Secretary Ryan Zinke, who is named as the defendant in the lawsuit, has expressed concerns about "indirectly facilitating the operation of a commercial gaming facility."

In the complaint, the tribes said the BIA received the revised agreements on August 2. So the 45-day deadline to take action was September 15.

The BIA indeed responded to the tribes on September 15 -- but said it didn't have enough information to make a concrete decision. The lawsuit claims that isn't an option under IGRA.

Under IGRA, the BIA can approve or reject a gaming agreement. But in the event the agency doesn't want to make a call, the law allows an agreement to take effect anyway.

The BIA has allowed a number of "deemed approved" compacts to take effect. In the Trump era, that just happened for a New Mexico tribe's gaming agreement. It's not clear why the situation in Connecticut is being handled differently except for the commercial casino component.

Read More on the Story:
State heads to court for East Windsor casino (The Connecticut Post November 29, 2017)
State, Tribes File Federal Lawsuit Tied To Casino Expansion In Connecticut (The Hartford Courant November 29, 2017)
Connecticut, Tribes Sue Feds to Break Deadlock on Third Casino (Westport Now November 29, 2017)
Connecticut, Tribes Seek To Force Ruling to Green Light New Casino (CT News Junkie November 30, 2017)
Connecticut, tribes sue feds to break deadlock on third casino (Hartford Business November 30, 2017)

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