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)

Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation sees setback in case against Trump administration

The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation has been dealt a setback in its effort to open a new casino in Connecticut.

A federal judge on Saturday dismissed a lawsuit the tribe filed against the Trump administration. At issue is the tribe's gaming agreement with the state.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs in the past has published the tribe's agreement in the Federal Register. But the Trump administration has refused to let that happen with respect to a recent update that paves the way for the new casino.

Judge Rudolph Contreras, however, said the tribe failed to point to a provision in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act that requires the BIA to take action by a certain deadline. He dismissed the case for a "failure to state a claim," according to the 58-page ruling.

IGRA does contain a 45-day deadline but that only applies to Class III gaming compacts that were negotiated between a tribe and the state, Contreras concluded. The Mashantucket agreement was approved under a different provision of the law that does not impose a deadline, he said.

"IGRA unambiguously does not apply the same approval timing requirements to secretarial procedures as it does to tribal-state compacts," Contreras wrote.

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

The tribe is weighing its next move in the case, an attorney told Indianz.Com on Tuesday. A spokesperson for the new casino project also told The New London Day that options are being considered.

“We remain committed to both seeing this process through and to the people of Connecticut and our partners in state government,” Andrew Doba of MMCT Venture told The Day.

The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation partnered with the Mohegan Tribe to open the new casino. They received approval under state law to jointly operate the facility.

To ensure the project doesn't conflict with their existing gaming rights, the tribes updated their agreements with the state. The state law that authorized the casino also required notice of both agreements to be published in the Federal Register.

The Trump administration did that belatedly for the Mohegan Tribe on June 1. That was 10 months after the tribe submitted its Class III gaming compact for review in August 2017, meaning the BIA failed to meet the 45-day deadline.

The BIA has not explained why it took so long to publish the notice.

The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation submitted its Class III gaming procedures to the BIA at the same time. A notice has never been published and the Trump administration in court has argued that never has to take action on the tribe's agreement.

The tribes originally thought their casino would be open by now. They chose a location in the city of East Windsor in order to compete with a non-Indian rival just across the border in neighboring Massachusetts.

MGM Springfield, which lobbied the Trump administration to kill the new casino, opened its doors on August 24. The facility is less than 15 miles from East Windsor.

In his decision on Saturday, Judge Contreras said MGM could intervene in the case.

Separate from the lawsuit, the Office of Inspector General at the Department of the Interior is investigating the way the tribal agreements have been handled by the Trump administration. It's not clear when a report might be issued.

Turtle Talk has posted documents from the case, Connecticut v. Zinke. The state of Connecticut is also a plaintiff.

Read More on the Story
D.C. judge deals setback to East Windsor casino (The Connecticut Mirror September 30, 2018)
Zinke, MGM prevail over tribes in casino lawsuit (POLITICO October 1, 2018)
State, tribes considering options in wake of East Windsor decision (The New London Day October 1, 2018)
What You Need To Know: A Federal Judge Deals A Setback To A Third Casino In Connecticut (The Hartford Courant October 1, 2018)
Judge's ruling diminishes chances for East Windsor casino (WTNH October 1, 2018)
Federal court ruling jeopardizes East Windsor casino plan (The Springfield Republican October 1, 2018)
Federal court ruling puts East Windsor casino project in limbo (Westfair Business Communications October 1, 2018)
Federal judge blocks casino in East Windsor from moving forward (WWLP October 2, 2018)
Judge Keeps Federal Approval For East Windsor Casino Out Of Reach (New England Public Radio October 2, 2018)

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

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