Connecticut Tribes Appeal Court’s Denial of Casino Suit

Connecticut Tribes Appeal Court’s Denial of Casino Suit
By Trey Killian

The Mashantucket Pequot Native American tribes of Connecticut are taking a stand in their battle to open a new casino facility in the state.

The tribes recently filed suit in response to former state’s Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s refusal to sign off on an agreement involving the building of the facility. A federal court dismissed the case, however, leading to the tribes pursuing an appeal of that decision.

The project, purported to cost upwards of $300 million, would entail the construction of a huge multipurpose entertainment complex including a casino in the East Winsor area.

This would be a big step for the tribes to ratchet up competition with MGM Resorts International which operates a casino property in nearby Springfield, Massachusetts.

The tribes believe that there is massive potential for the project as it would create opportunity for labor and revenue as was reiterated by spokesperson Andrew Doba in a statement regarding the appeal.

“We started this process because thousands of people will lose their jobs and the state will lose millions in revenue if we fail to compete with MGM in Massachusetts. We are obviously disappointed with the court’s ruling and are currently reviewing our options. We remain committed to both seeing this process through and to the people of Connecticut and our partners in state government.”

Tribes Label Secretary’s Decision ‘Arbitrary’

The tribes’ main contention with the decision stems from their belief that it was made based on “improper political influence and was therefore ‘arbitrary and capricious.’” They believe that the interior secretary has been influenced by both MGM and legislators in Nevada with connections to the ubiquitous US casino resort brand.

Essentially, the agreement that required signature was an amendment of a previously completed agreement between the state and local tribal authority in order to ensure that the construction of the proposed property won’t conflict with the existing revenue sharing deal between the state and its two existing tribal casinos.

The new facility would be the first to be located off tribal lands in the state, which is why the amendment to existing agreements needed to be made in the first place.

The current revenue sharing agreement, established in the 1990s, grants both the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes exclusive rights to casino gaming in the state in exchange for 25 percent of the gross slots revenue generated at both the Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun properties.

MGM has, in turn, lobbied the Interior to reject the proposed site as it claims to have no obligation under the federal IGRA (Indian Gaming Regulatory Act) law to provide for a facility located off tribal lands.

Judge’s Refutation Serves a Tough Setback

Judge Randolph Contreras of the US District Court of the District of Columbia filed a 58-word response to the lawsuit denying to hear the case and providing another setback for the Mashantucket Pequot.

MGM predictably backed the decision by the court in a statement, praising its response as a complete breakdown and refutation of the tribes’ efforts.

“The thorough and unambiguous federal court ruling can only be seen as a clear rejection of the Tribes’ insistent efforts to obtain a no-bid commercial casino license in Connecticut. It has become increasingly apparent that the Tribes’ promises of legal victory, no matter how often they are repeated, prove hollow.”

The appeal, however, shows the tribes are not backing down and the state is rallying behind them, so despite the wishes of MGM it appears the fight isn’t over just yet.

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Trey Killian covers the gambling and casino industries in the U.S. A budding reporter, Killian is a graduate of Marquette University and writes about a range of topics, including but not limited to digital casino gaming, online poker and industry news.

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