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After Legislative Approval For Third Casino, Court Battle Looms

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After Legislative Approval For Third Casino, Court Battle Looms

The fight to establish a third casino in East Windsor cleared months of grueling debate in the legislature Wednesday but another hurdle now looms, this time in the courts.

"It's hard to predict what their claims will be and then what the defenses will be," House Majority Leader Matt Ritter said. "But we acknowledge someone is going to sue. We don't know who or for what reason, but they will."

One vocal opponent, the Kent-based Schaghticoke Tribal Nation, surfaced Wednesday, threatening to file a lawsuit if, as expected, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signs the legislation The Schaghticokes have expressed an interest in developing a casino, but in southwestern Connecticut.

The bill passed by the House early Wednesday gives the exclusive right to develop the state's first casino off tribal lands to the tribal operators of Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun. The casino, which would be located in East Windsor, is intended to keep gambling dollars from migrating to Springfield, where MGM Resorts International is building a $950 million casino and entertainment complex.

Even if there are lawsuits, legal experts said Wednesday, the tribes can push forward with construction. The Mashantucket Pequots and Mohegans — partnering as MMCT Venture for the project — have consistently said they would pursue this path.

"If they are not under a court order preventing them from moving forward, nothing stops them," said Walter E. Paulekas, managing partner at Ford & Paulekas in Hartford. "They do take the risk of an adverse ruling at the end of the day. You're betting a lot of money, but they are big boys."

In order to push forward, MMCT needed the legislation but it also must secure approval from the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs. The bureau must approve changes to the agreement between the state and the tribes that, among other things, guarantee the state a 25 percent cut of slot revenue each month.

The Schaghticokes and MGM have pushed for legislators to open up the process to more bidders, if the state intends to expand gaming to respond to intensifying competition not only from Springfield but other states in the Northeast.

"Under the equal protection clauses of both the federal and state Constitutions, STN should have the same right to pursue this economic opportunity as anyone else," Schaghticoke Chief Richard Velky said.

MGM vowed to continue its fight, turning from the legislature to federal court where it already has a lawsuit challenging a 2015 statute that set up a two-step process for casino expansion. The first step allowed the Mashantucket Pequots and Mohegans to search for a site and the second step, the focus of this session of the General Assembly, approved the actual expansion.

"We will continue to vigorously advocate in the courts as we seek to protect the constitutional rights of any company hoping to do business in Connecticut," said Uri Clinton, senior vice president and legal counsel for MGM. "And that, ultimately, is what our goal has always been: we'd like the chance to compete to do business in Connecticut."

MGM has bankrolled some of the Schaghticokes' earlier efforts to oppose expansion by MMCT.

Clinton stopped short of saying MGM would file a second lawsuit. For now, MGM is awaiting a ruling in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on its earlier lawsuit. A federal court judge in Hartford sided with the state, ruling that MGM lacked standing to sue and the law did not exclusively favor the tribes.

"The 2nd Circuit may comment or limit its discussion as to the issue whether MGM had standing at the time it brought the prior suit," Paulekas said. "Irrespective, a fair reading of the tea leaves would be that another lawsuit is coming and both parties are ready to litigate the issue."

The tribes remain confident in their plan for the East Windsor casino and their ability to withstand lawsuits.

"We are incredibly gratified by the tremendous bipartisan support we received from both chambers," said Andrew Doba, an MMCT spokesman. " We are confident that our project can withstand any legal challenge and we are full steam ahead."

MMCT plans a 200,000-square-foot casino on the site of an abandoned movie theater off I-91, spending up to $300 million. The venue would have 2,000 slots and 50 to 175 table games.

Courant staff writers Dan Haar and Daniela Altimari contributed to this story.

Read more http://news.google.com/news/url?sa=t&fd=R&ct2=us&usg=AFQjCNEkdQ0j-1rXmS41C_L_FQBEIhJ9pA&clid=c3a7d30bb8a4878e06b80cf16b898331&cid=52779522269222&ei=g3Q5WbilJdKShQHIg4GYBw&url=http://www.courant.com/business/hc-casino-expansion-legislation-challenge-20170607-story.html

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