Artist's rendering of the Tribal Winds Casino, slated to be owned and operated by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and the Mohegan Tribe in East Windsor, Connecticut. Image: Tribal Winds Casino

Non-Indian gaming company sues Trump administration over tribal agreements

A non-Indian company that lobbied the Trump administration in hopes of derailing two tribes is now suing the Trump administration for allowing the tribes' gaming agreements to take effect.

In the lawsuit, MGM Resorts International claims the belated approval of the agreements for the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and the Mohegan Tribe violates the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. The 33-page complaint was filed in federal court on Wednesday in hopes of preventing the tribes from opening a new gaming property in Connecticut.

"Interior’s approval decisions are unexplained, unprecedented, and unlawful," reads the complaint, which names the Department of the Interior, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs John Tahsuda and Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt as defendants.

Then-Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt addresses the executive council winter session of the National Congress of American Indians in Washington, D.C, on February 13, 2019. He has since been confirmed to serve as the Secretary of the Interior. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

The complaint omits information about MGM's efforts to convince top officials at Interior, including Bernhardt's predecessor, to reject the tribal agreements. The campaign resulted in unprecedented delays that affected the handling of the Mohegan Tribe's Class III gaming compact and the Mashantucket Tribe's Class III gaming procedures.

Under IGRA, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has 45 days to make a decision on Class III gaming compact. But no answer was given to the Mohegan Tribe after the review period concluded, for reasons that have remained unexplained to this day.

Similarly, no answer was given to the Mashantucket Tribe. In court filings, government attorneys argued that IGRA allowed the BIA to hold back a decision on Class III gaming procedures indefinitely.

Only when the tribes went to court did the BIA allow the Mohegan Tribe's Class III gaming compact to take effect on June 1, 2018 -- nearly 10 months after the IGRA deadline. The Trump administration gave no reason for the delay.

And only after the Mashantucket Tribe won an important decision in the case earlier this year did the BIA allow its Class III gaming procedures to take effect on March 25, almost 20 months after the IGRA deadline. Similarly, no reason was given for the delay.

The tribes submitted the agreements to the BIA to account for their new gaming development. Even though the Tribal Winds Casino won't be operated under federal law, the tribes wanted to be sure that the project wouldn't impact their federally-protected rights.

The New England Casino Race: Tribal and commercial gaming facilities in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island
Tribal Winds is to be located in East Windsor. MGM Resorts operates a $1 billion commercial casino just across the border in neighboring Massachusetts.

The MGM lawsuit was filed in the federal court in Washington, D.C., The 33-page complaint was accompanied by a whopping 348 pages of exhibits and other documents.

Bernhardt's predecessor, former Secretary Ryan Zinke, resigned from the Trump administration amid scrutiny of his involvement in the debacle. He has since told the media and energy interests that he has been exonerated of any wrongdoing.

Read More on the Story
MGM Sues to Block Deal Allowing Indian Casinos on Non-Tribal Connecticut Land (The Connecticut Law Tribune August 7, 2019)
MGM Resorts sues Interior Department over decision to allow Connecticut tribes to operate an East Windsor casino (The Hartford Courant August 7, 2019)
MGM suit takes new tact to blocking tribes (The Connecticut Mirror August 7, 2019)
MGM files new suit over tribes' third-casino plan (The New London Day August 7, 2019)
Dan Haar: MGM files federal lawsuit over tribes’ casino approval (Hearst Connecticut Media August 7, 2019)

Federal Register Notices
Indian Gaming; Amendment to Class III Gaming Procedures for the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe (March 25, 2019)
Indian Gaming; Tribal-State Class III Gaming Compact Taking Effect in the State of Connecticut (June 1, 2018)

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