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)

Tribes see decline in revenues as new casino remains in limbo

When it comes to gaming, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and the Mohegan Tribe didn't have such a great 2018. The Trump administration is to blame for much of that.

The tribes saw five consecutive months of declines in slot machine revenues at their respective casinos, The New London Day reported. At Foxwoods Resort Casino, owned by the Pequots, revenues fell 8 percent in November 2018 when compared to a year prior, while the Mohegan Sun saw a 6.8 percent decline, the paper said.

Additionally, the tribes saw declines in their overall revenues for the last fiscal year, the paper reported. At Foxwoods, year-to-year revenues dropped 2.3 percent while the Mohegan Sun saw 1 percent drop.

The declines speak to the growing competition for the gaming market in New England. Last August -- about five months ago -- a non-Indian firm opened a $900 million commercial casino in neighboring Massachusetts.

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

The tribes had hoped to address that development by jointly opening a new casino. But the Trump administration held up the project by failing to approve their respective gaming agreements in a timely manner.

Only after the tribes went to court did the Bureau of Indian Affairs publish notice of the Mohegan Tribe's agreement in the Federal Register, about 9 months later than required by law. The Pequot agreement, however, remains in limbo for reasons that haven't been completely explained.

The issue remains in litigation in federal court and has been the subject of an ongoing investigation by the Office of Inspector General at the Department of the Interior. Former Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, who left the Trump administration on January 2, sat for two interviews as part of the inquiry, The Washington Post reported.

But a report has yet to be released publicly, almost 10 months after it was initiated. That's because the the Department of Justice picked up on the matter, Indianz.Com reported on December 15, along with other possible allegations of wrongdoing by Zinke and his political leadership team.

That's when Zinke, aware of his possible legal jeopardy, chose to resign. His resignation announcement decried "false allegations" and he denied that he lied during his interviews with the Inspector General, The Associated Press reported.

“It’s an unauthorized leak from an anonymous source over false allegations,” Zinke told the AP.

Zinke's departure leaves Interior in the hands of Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt, who is now serving as "acting" Secretary of the Interior. President Donald Trump promised to name a replacement last month but has failed to do so. A replacement would need to be confirmed by the Senate.

Meanwhile, back in Connecticut, the tribes are looking for a way around Washington's roadblocks. A bill that could be introduced by state lawmakers would ensure that the delayed casino can move forward without waiting for the BIA to approve the Pequot agreement, The New London Day and The Hartford Courant reported.

Read More on the Story
Bill would authorize sports betting at casinos, online keno at lottery locations (The New London Day January 7, 2019)
Annual reports: Casino revenues dipped in fiscal ’18 (The New London Day January 6, 2019)
Legislators continue to debate gaming-related issues (The New London Day January 5, 2018)
Zinke denies report that he lied to Interior investigators (The Associated Press January 4, 2018)
Justice Dept. investigating whether Zinke lied to inspector general (The Washington Post January 3, 2018)
Grijalva calls for Zinke testimony amid allegations of lying to investigators (POLITICO January 3, 2018)
Another slide in casinos' year-over-year slots revenues (The New London Day December 14, 2018)
Foxwoods' slot revenue down five consecutive months (Hartford Business December 14, 2018)
Lawmakers will make new push to complete East Windsor casino (The Hartford Courant December 12, 2018)

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