MGM Resorts International filed suit against the U.S. Department of Interior on Aug. 7 in an effort to stop Connecticut’s casino-operating Native American tribes from expanding their operations into locations off tribal grounds, the Associated Press reported.
It’s just the latest move in a long-running dispute pitting the two tribal casino operators in Connecticut, the Mashantucket Pequots and Mohegans, against MGM Resorts. And this issue could take years to sort through completely now that it’s heading to federal court.
The state’s existing tribal-state gaming compacts give two Native American tribes in Connecticut exclusive rights to certain forms of gambling in the state in exchange for 25 percent of slot-machine revenues going back to the government.
Those two groups, which operate the Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos, have also been pushing for expansion into locations off tribal grounds. Over the past few years, the tribes have used their considerable political clout at the state and local level to seek legal pathways toward building an off-reservation casino in East Windsor as well as establishing another one in Bridgeport.
In both cases, the tribes are hoping to separate themselves from their main rival in the region, MGM Resorts, which runs a casino in nearby Springfield, Mass.
The 33-page lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., argues that the Department of Interior and the Bureau of Indian Affairs went beyond their legal authority back in March when the federal government approved an amendment to Connecticut’s gambling compact between the state government and the Native American tribes.
That amendment, which was approved by the Department of Interior with very little explanation, essentially allows those two tribes in Connecticut to jointly build and operate a casino in East Windsor. That new casino would compete directly with the MGM Springfield, an existing casino just 12 miles away on the other side of the Massachusetts border.
By filing the suit in federal court, the law firm which represents MGM Resorts argues that the federal approval of the state-level gaming compact violates The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and creates an unfair and unlawful monopoly for the tribes in Connecticut, giving them little to no competition for casino rights off tribal lands.
According to the suit, the Department of Interior’s amendment gives the tribes a “monopoly over commercial gaming in Connecticut.”
Gov. Ned Lamont had already been tasked with creating an agreement that would satisfy both parties, and now things have gotten even trickier.
“It has always been my intention to develop a comprehensive gaming platform that not only strengthened Connecticut’s gaming industry but protected it from litigation,” Lamont said, according to the Associated Press.
But now it appears it might be even harder to get both sides to the negotiating table, and MGM Resorts might just let things play out the long way. The suit probably would prevent the tribes from moving forward with any real plans until the case gets settled in court.
“The amendments are not limited to an East Windsor casino,” MGM’s attorneys write in the lawsuit according to the Associated Press. “They facilitate commercial, off-reservation gaming by the tribal joint venture anywhere in Connecticut and state legislators have recently proposed granting the joint venture an exclusive, no-bid license to operate a casino in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The amendments thus confer a statewide, perpetual competitive advantage on the joint venture.”
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