Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy and leaders of the Pequot and Mohegan gaming tribes held a celebration last week to mark the signing of legislation authorizing the third $300 million casino the tribes have sought to help them blunt the effects of the $950 million MGM Springfield that is due to open next year in Massachusetts.
The ceremony took place in the Old Judiciary Room of the State Capitol, and, besides the governor and tribal officials and officials of the town of East Windsor, included lawmakers and other supporters of the bill.
The bill designates East Windsor, just outside of Hartford, the state capital as the site of the third, satellite casino, which will be jointly operated by MMCT Venture, the development arm of the tribes. The casino will be built in the old vacant Showcase Cinemas complex.
The necessary amendments to the tribal state gaming compacts then went to both houses, with the House quickly approving them 118-32 and the Senate set to consider them next. The compacts altered to allow the tribes to operate commercial casinos. They need approval by both houses and then by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which has already signaled it will approve the changes. It still requires 45 days to review the document, however.
Under the terms of the new compacts the tribes will pay 25 percent of their slots revenue to the state, which is the same percentage they pay for their casinos on sovereign land: the Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods.
MGM International Resorts, which has fought the possibility of a commercial casino run by the tribes at every step of the way, has gone to federal court to seek an injunction against it.
MGM claims that the law violates the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause by giving the tribes exclusive rights to operate a casino without putting it out to a bidding process, which MGM claims it would participate in.
Uri Clinton, a spokesman for MGM, issued a statement that declared, “We continue to believe that the process put in place by the legislature and signed today by the governor violates both the Connecticut and U.S. Constitutions. As such, we will continue to pursue all legal remedies.”
The tribes successfully fought off MGM’s first legal challenge, which was tossed out for being premature since it merely created a process by which the tribes identified the site for a casino. It didn’t actually authorize the casino, as this legislation has done.
Mohegan Tribal Chairman Kevin Brown said MGM’s threat was expected. At a news conference, he picked up the gauntlet: “There’s no question that MGM is going to try to attempt to make some sort of legal approach or litigation on this. We have taken before steps to begin planning and constructing the facility under the shadow of litigation, and we’ll do it again.”
Malloy remained neutral for much of the debate about a third casino, but near the end of the process came down in favor of the tribes’ proposal and against the bill favored by MGM, which would have allowed a bidding process to put a casino in Fairfield County, near the border with New York.
At the ceremony, he said the state stands ready to defend the law in court as a measure protecting the state’s interests.
The governor declared, “I believe we have acted appropriately as a state to protect the interest of the state, as well as our partners, the tribal nations, and obviously to the benefit of those who remain employed at those facilities and this new facility.”
He added, “This is not just a symbolic step that we take today, this is another additional step, a real step we take in furtherance of making sure the Pequots and Mohegans are successful in our state.”
Meanwhile, MGM is not only active on the legal front, it is also trying an oblique lobby of the Bureau of Indian Affairs by passing around a letter from U.S. Senator John McCain, one of the authors of the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. The letter expresses McCain’s concerts about allowing the two Connecticut tribes to operate a non-tribal casino.
In his letter McCain asked the Trump administration and the Department of the Interior to refrain from issuing the non-binding opinion the tribes seek. The Obama administration already previously issued such an opinion. The opinion confirmed the tribes’ assertion that allowing them to operate a commercial casino would not adversely impact their tribal state gaming compacts.
But something more than an informal opinion is now needed—and that is what the BIA will issue in response to the amended compacts in 45 days.
In his letter McCain wrote that he worried the Obama era-opinion “is being construed as the department’s tacit approval for their project.”
The tribes attacked the letter in a statement: “This letter is nothing more than an eleventh-hour tactic by MGM to stall our growing momentum. We’ve been working with the BIA for months, and expect to see the fruits of that labor in the near future.”