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

Trump administration still mum on gaming agreement for Mashantucket Tribe

The Trump administration has yet to take action on a gaming agreement for the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and lawmakers from Connecticut want to know why.

The tribe sent the agreement to Washington, D.C., more than 10 months ago. But no one from the Department of the Interior is willing to say what's going on with it.

"We remain deeply concerned about the propriety of the actions of the Department of the Interior officials," the four lawmakers, all Democrats, wrote in a letter to the agency's Inspector General on Tuesday.

The lawmakers note that Interior took action -- belatedly -- with respect to the Mohegan Tribe and its gaming agreement. A notice was published in the Federal Register on June 1, long after the deadline.

According to The Hartford Courant, the tribes were expecting the Mashantucket notice to be published last week. But nothing has been sent to the Federal Register as of Wednesday afternoon.

"Further, the timing of the decision by the department to publish the Mohegan compact amendment more than six months after federal law required and the failure of the department to provide similar effect to the Mashantucket Pequot amendment raises additional questions and concerns which the Inspector General should review," the lawmakers said in their letter.

The trust relationship at work? A document obtained by POLITICO could explain why the Trump administration failed to approve gaming agreements for two tribes, if only anyone were able to read the heavily-redacted memo.

The tribes, along with the state of Connecticut, already sued the Trump administration to force publication of the notices. In response, government attorneys said Interior was not required to make a decision on the Mashantucket agreement by any sort of deadline because of the way the tribe got into the gaming industry back in the 1990s.

But federal regulations appear to require action. They stay that Interior "shall publish notice" in the Federal Register after receiving a tribe's Class III gaming procedures.

Government attorneys, however, never said anything about the Mohegan agreement. Under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, a tribe is supposed to receive an answer on its Class III gaming compact within 45 days.

The deadline passed without action but the Bureau of Indian Affairs essentially admitted the tribe was right when it published the notice on June 1.

"The Secretary took no action on the amendment to the compact between the Mohegan Tribe of Indians of Connecticut and the state of Connecticut within 45 days of its submission. Therefore, the amendment is considered to have been approved, but only to the extent the amendment is consistent with IGRA," the document reads.

No explanation, though, was provided for the delay. And government attorneys have not explained it to the court either -- their last filing in the case was more than two months ago.

"DOI has never treated our agreements with the state any different than the Mohegan Tribe's agreements with the state, and there's no reason they should start doing so now," Mashantucket Chairman Rodney Butler said in a statement quoed by The New London Day. "We thank the delegation for their work and join their call for the department to act responsibly and publish the amendment."

Action is critical to the tribes because they are pursuing a new casino in Connecticut. Though the project does not need federal approval -- it was authorized under state law -- they updated their agreements in order to continue sharing revenues with the state.

Further, the state law that authorized the casino requires notices of both agreements to be published in the Federal Register.

Read More on the Story:
State's Congressional Delegation Presses For Broader Probe Of Federal Government's Handling Of Casino Proposals (The Hartford Courant June 12, 2018)
Lawmakers renew call for probe of Interior's handling of gaming amendments (The New London Day June 12, 2018)

Federal Register Notice:
Indian Gaming; Tribal-State Class III Gaming Compact Taking Effect in the State of Connecticut (June 1, 2018)

Join the Conversation

Related Stories
Trump administration reverses course on tribal gaming agreement in Connecticut (June 4, 2018)
Online gaming also on the table as Connecticut negotiates with tribes (May 24, 2018)
Connecticut governor seeks to negotiate sports betting with tribes (May 22, 2018)
Mashantucket and Mohegan interested in pursuing casinos in Japan (May 16, 2018)
Mohegan Tribe gains sole ownership of $5 billion gaming project in Korea (May 9, 2018)
Non-Indian firm fighting tribes announces earlier opening date for casino (April 26, 2018)
Lawmakers from Connecticut prompted probe into handling of tribal agreements (April 25, 2018)
Tribes welcome probe into Trump administration's handling of gaming agreements (April 23, 2018)
Tribes still facing legal questions in bid for new casino in Connecticut (April 17, 2018)
Trump administration hit for keeping two tribes in Connecticut in the dark (April 6, 2018)
Mohegan Tribe on track to complete convention center at casino (March 29, 2018)
Tribes finally start demolition at site of delayed casino in Connecticut (March 6, 2018)
Tribes still planning to start work on delayed casino in Connecticut (February 28, 2018)
Trump team appears willing to delay tribal casino deal in Connecticut indefinitely (February 6, 2018)
Tribes ready to start initial work on delayed casino in Connecticut (February 2, 2018)
Former Interior Secretary Gale Norton lobbies against tribes' casino (February 1, 2018)