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)

Lawmakers from Connecticut prompted probe into handling of tribal agreements

Will the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and the Mohegan Tribe finally get some answers from the Trump administration when it comes to their stalled gaming project in Connecticut?

Members of the state's congressional delegation sure hope so. They are the ones who asked the Office of Inspector General at the Department of the Interior to investigate the handling of the tribe's gaming agreements.

“Our team is working diligently on their letter of request,” Nancy DiPaolo, a spokesperson for the office, told The Connecticut Mirror when asked about the probe.

Though the lawmakers requested the probe in February, news of it didn't surface until earlier this week. That's when POLITICO reported on the unusual treatment the tribes have received in Washington, D.C.

According to the report, the Bureau of Indian Affairs was prepared to approve the agreements last September. But after a top political official at Interior made "edits," the tribes were told that no decision was being made.

The department isn't explaining publicly why it changed course, especially after the official who made the edits had previously told the tribes to expect approval. In an editorial, The New London Day wonders whether a non-Indian gaming firm that has been fighting the tribes and lobbying the Trump team had anything to do with it.

"Unless forced to break out the pumps, the Trump administration won’t be draining this particular swamp anytime soon." the paper said in the editorial.

If the Inspector General isn't able to find out what happened, an ongoing lawsuit filed by the tribes might be able to shed some light. Heavily-redacted documents obtained by POLITICO through a Freedom of Information Act request indicate the Trump administration believes there is a legal basis for not giving an answer.

At issue is a new casino the tribes plan to open after securing approval under state law. The site they chose is less than 15 miles from a non-Indian facility going up across the border in Massachusetts.

MGM Resorts International plans to open that facility in September and the firm has said it will do whatever it takes to derail the tribes, a strategy that appears to be working so far.

The new Mashantucket-Mohegan casino will not be operated pursuant to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. The site of the project, in the city of East Windsor, won't be placed in trust either.

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

But both tribes operate casinos on their reservations pursuant to IGRA. They also share 25 percent of their slot machine revenues with the state in exchange for exclusivity.

To protect that relationship, the tribes updated their arrangements with the state and sent them to the BIA for review. They thought they were going to get an answer last September until being told otherwise.

The lawsuit the tribes filed seeks to force publication of their agreements in the Federal Register. Without that action, officials in the state don't believe the casino will be legal.

Read More on the Story:
Inspector General investigating Interior’s handling of CT tribes’ casino issue (The Connecticut Mirror April 23, 2018)
Inspector General Probes Interior Department's Handling Of Connecticut Casino Expansion (The Hartford Courant April 23, 2018)
Inspector general reviewing inaction on tribal casino (The Associated Press April 23, 2018)
New revelations have tribes looking to Interior probe (The New London Day April 23, 2018)

An Opinion:
Editorial: Swamp politics aids MGM in clash with tribal casinos (The New London Day April 23, 2018)

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