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 in Connecticut on June 13, 2017. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Tribes still planning to start work on delayed casino in Connecticut

The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and the Mohegan Tribe are almost ready to start initial work on a long-delayed casino in Connecticut.

A ceremony was supposed to take place on Wednesday but has been delayed to Monday, The Hartford Courant reported. A spokesperson for MMCT, the tribes' joint venture, indicated the change was made to accommodate attendees' schedules but The New London Day also reported that a permit had yet to be granted for demolition at the work site.

The tribes are planning to build the casino in East Windsor. The location was chosen in order to compete with a $950 million commercial casino going up just across the state line in Massachusetts.

The tribes had originally planned to break ground late last year. That would have put an opening in line with that of the MGM Springfield property in Massachusetts.

But MGM will be opening later this year, ahead of the tribes. They trace the delay to the Trump administration for refusing to sign off on their updated gaming agreements.

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

A lawsuit pending in federal court aims to force the publication of the agreements in the Federal Register. It's not clear when a decision will be reached and the tribes haven't publicly said what they will do if the case stretches out longer.

MGM has been lobbying heavily in Connecticut and in Washington, D.C., in hopes of derailing the tribes. The firm is also trying to assert participation in the federal court lawsuit.

The tribes technically do not need approval from the federal government to open the new casino. They instead received approval under state law.

The facility will not be located on trust land or Indian lands and will not be operated pursuant to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

But both tribes have existing arrangements with the state of Connecticut that require them to share 25 percent of slot machine revenues in return for exclusivity. They updated the arrangements in order to account for their new development.

It is those updates that are being held up by the Trump administration. In court papers, government attorneys claim they aren't required by law to make a decision on the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation's arrangement because the tribe opened its Foxwoods Resort Casino under unique provisions of IGRA.

At the same time, the Trump team has not explained why the Department of the Interior hasn't made a decision on the Mohegan Tribe's agreement. IGRA imposes a hard 45-day deadline on the Bureau of Indian Affairs to make decisions on Class III gaming compacts.

The BIA has acknowledged receiving the Mashantucket and Mohegan agreements on August 2, 2017. On September 15 -- exactly 45 days later -- the agency sent identical letters back, stating that "our review" has been "completed."

Still, neither agreement has been published in the Federal Register.

Read More on the Story:
Demolition On East Windsor Casino Site Delayed Until Next Week (The Hartford Courant February 27, 2018)
New bill would scuttle tribes' East Windsor casino project (The New London Day February 27, 2018)
CT lawmakers explore sports betting ahead of SCOTUS decision (The Connecticut Mirror February 28, 2018)

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