An official portrait of Gale Norton, a former Secretary of the Interior, hangs in the headquarters of the Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Former Interior Secretary Gale Norton lobbies against tribes' casino

Gale Norton, a former Secretary of the Interior during the George W. Bush administration, is part of a major lobbying effort aimed at defeating a tribally-owned casino in Connecticut.

Norton was hired by MGM Resorts International, a non-Indian gaming company that opposes the new casino, POLITICO reported. Records show she was paid around $10,000 during the last quarter of 2017 to fight the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and the Mohegan Tribe.

According to a registration document, Norton began working for MGM on October 25, 2017. She was hired to lobby the Trump administration on the "Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan Connecticut gaming amendments."

The timing was auspicious. A day after Norton came on board, top officials at the Department of the Interior met with the tribes in Washington, D.C., POLITICO reported.

The subject of the meeting was those gaming amendments, according to a subsequent letter sent by the tribes to Jim Cason, a top political appointee at Interior. They were wondering why the department failed to publish notice of their agreements in the Federal Register as required by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

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

According to the plain text of IGRA, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has just 45 days to approve or reject a Class III gaming compact. In the event the agency, which is part of Interior, can't make a decision, the agreement is considered to be "deemed approved" and is allowed to take effect.

The tribes submitted their agreements on August 2, 2017, yet the Trump administration has failed to publish notice, more than six months later.

“It’s 100 percent about delaying us for as long as they possibly can,” Andrew Doba, a spokesperson for the tribes' casino venture, told POLITICO.

The delay benefits MGM immensely. The firm has invested nearly $1 billion in a commercial casino in neighboring Massachusetts, at a site only 13 miles from the tribes' project.

The facility is due to open by the end of this year. The tribes had been hoping to debut their casino at around the same time but have yet to break ground due to the delay caused by the Trump administration.

The tribes, along with the state of Connecticut, are suing in federal court to force the publication of the gaming agreements in the Federal Register. MGM, unsurprisingly, is seeking to join the lawsuit.

Norton, incidentally, isn't the only former Secretary of the Interior who has been fighting the tribes. Ken Salazar, who led the department during the Barack Obama administration, works for a law and lobbying firm that has represented MGM.

Read More on the Story:
Zinke's agency held up Indians’ casino after MGM lobbying (POLITICO February 1, 2018)

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