Max Reiss on Twitter: Demolition for tribally-owned casino in Connecticut

Tribes finally start demolition at site of delayed casino in Connecticut

Amid delays attributed to the Trump administration, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and the Mohegan Tribe finally started demolition work for their jointly-operated commercial casino in Connecticut.

The tribes are tearing down an old movie theater in East Windsor to make way for the new development. The site is right off a major highway, about 15 miles north of Hartford, the state capital.

“The Pequots and the Mohegans do not have a fleeting interest in the state of Connecticut,” Mohegan Chairman Kevin Brown said at the ceremony on Monday, WNPR reported. “We have a permanent interest in this state."

The tribes secured approval under state law to open the new casino, which will not be operated pursuant to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. The land in East Windsor won't be placed in trust either.

Despite the unique nature of the project, officials in Washington, D.C., are standing in the way. The Department of the Interior has refused to sanction gaming agreements submitted by the tribes after making pledges to do so.

Both tribes share 25 percent of slot machine revenues with the state. In order to ensure the new development doesn't upset that arrangement, they worked with the state to update their agreements.

It is those amendments that are being held up in Washington. In court papers, government attorneys claim they aren't required to make a decision for the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation because the tribe opened its Foxwoods Resort Casino under unique provisions of IGRA.

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

"In a stunning about-face, the defendants now ask this court to adopt a hyper-technical reading of the law that would create two classes of compacts," the two tribes and the state of Connecticut wrote in a court filing on Monday, "stripping one of key protections and safeguards otherwise afforded by IGRA and related federal regulations,"

The BIA has acknowledged receiving the Mashantucket and Mohegan amendments 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 as required by IGRA.

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

It's not clear why the Trump administration changed course. Last May, a top Interior official told the tribes that their updated agreements would likely be approved.

A month later, the tribes presented Jim Cason, the Associate Deputy Secretary at Interior, with a blanket during the mid-year conference of the National Congress of American Indians. The event was hosted by the Mohegans at their Mohegan Sun resort.

“Interior stood up for Indian Country, stood up for that government-to-government relationship,” Mashantucket Chairman Rodney Butler said on June 13, 2017. The presentation to Cason came after Secretary Ryan Zinke, the leader of the department, addressed NCAI for the first time since joining the Trump administration.

But a widely-read story in POLITICO traced the about-face to a Washington lobbying campaign by MGM Resorts International, a non-Indian gaming company that opposes the new casino. The firm happens to be investing nearly $1 billion in a commercial casino in neighboring Massachusetts, at a site less than 13 miles from the old theater in East Windsor.

"MGM Resorts International," the court filing on Monday read, "lobbied the defendants not to act on the compact amendments."

Government attorneys, though, aren't conceding any link between Interior and the lobbying effort. In a separate filing on Monday, they said MGM should not be allowed to intervene in the ongoing lawsuit.

"The Secretary’s return of the gaming amendments also is not directly connected to MGM’s asserted economic injury," the filing stated, referring to Secretary Zinke.

The two tribes and the state of Connecticut are also opposing MGM's presence in the lawsuit.

Read More on the Story:
Demolition Begins For East Windsor Casino, But Can Construction Be Completed? (WNPR March 6, 2018)
Demolition Begins at East Windsor Casino Site (NBC Connecticut March 5, 2018)
Dan Haar: Tribes start East Windsor demolition but casino could be eight years away (The Stamford Advocate March 5, 2018)
Demolition On East Windsor Casino Now Underway But Construction Timetable Still Unclear (The Hartford Courant March 5, 2018)
Mohegans, Mashantucket hold ceremony to begin demolition for third casino (The New London Day March 5, 2018)
Indian tribes push ahead on plans for Connecticut casino (The Associated Press March 5, 2018)
Connecticut tribes begin clearing East Windsor casino site; still no OK from feds (The Springfield Republican March 5, 2018)

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