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Letter From Indian Gaming Regulators Clouds Future Of East Windsor Casino

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Letter From Indian Gaming Regulators Clouds Future Of East Windsor Casino

Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs regulators have thrown a potential roadblock in front of opening the state’s first casino off tribal lands, and questions are being raised about just how quickly expansion might get underway.

The state law enacted this year that allows the tribal operators of Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun to jointly open a satellite casino in East Windsor required federal approvals that the revenue-sharing agreements with the state wouldn’t be affected by the new casino agreement.

Previously, the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes had produced letters of non-binding guidance from the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs throughout a series of legislative hearings on the East Windsor casino. The agency indicated it didn’t anticipate problems, but when the BIA’s letter was issued Friday, it didn’t explicitly approve or disapprove.

Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council (L) and Kevin Brown, chairman of t
Mark Mirko / Hartford Courant Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council (L) and Kevin Brown, chairman of the Mohegan Tribal Council, speak during a public hearing in March on the casino expansion bills. Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council (L) and Kevin Brown, chairman of the Mohegan Tribal Council, speak during a public hearing in March on the casino expansion bills. (Mark Mirko / Hartford Courant)

“The fact that it was not a clear approval letter, it’s problematic,” said state Rep. Joe Verrengia, D-West Hartford and co-chairman of the legislature’s public safety and security committee, which oversees gaming. “Without the BIA’s letter of approval, the project doesn’t go forward.”

Without the BIA’s approval, the state law would have to be amended by the legislature, said Verrengia, who favored competitive bidding for the third casino rather than just considering the tribes.

Sen. Timothy D. Larson, D-East Hartford and a supporter of the tribes’ plans for East Windsor, sees it far differently.

“It did not say no,” Larson said. “It said it was unnecessary, and I took that as favorable.”

The East Windsor casino was sought as part of a strategy to keep gaming industry jobs and revenue in Connecticut in the face of the approaching opening of MGM Resort International’s $950 million casino and entertainment complex in Springfield.

A rendering of the $300 million casino planned for the former Showcase Cinemas site in East Windsor
Tecton Architects A rendering of the $300 million casino planned for the former Showcase Cinemas site in East Windsor off I-91 A rendering of the $300 million casino planned for the former Showcase Cinemas site in East Windsor off I-91 (Tecton Architects)

The agreements bring hundreds of millions of dollars into state coffers each year to fund a budget that has seen a ballooning deficit.

In its letter, the BIA said it had “insufficient information” whether or not decades-old revenue-sharing agreements would be breached by the expansion. But the BIA also said the state had agreed with the tribes that the revenue-sharing agreements wouldn’t be violated so the agency didn’t have to render any ruling.

The BIA did not return a call and an email Tuesday seeking comment.

The fact that it was not a clear approval letter, it’s problematic. — Rep. Joe Verrengia, D-West Hartford

Attorney General George Jepsen had raised concerns about the expansion again this spring and warned there was no guarantee that past practices of the BIA would continue under the Trump administration.

Jepsen’s office is now reviewing the letter and has declined further comment.

The letter became public Monday on the same day MGM, which has aggressively pushed for open competition in the legislature, announced plans for a $675 million casino on Steelpointe Harbor in Bridgeport.

MGM’s plan for Bridgeport also would need legislative approval, and the casino giant said Tuesday it might seek approval during the current special session.

It did not say no. It said it was unnecessary, and I took that as favorable. — Sen. Timothy D. Larson, D-East Hartford

Verrengia said the proposal now changes the nature of the casino expansion debate and is solidifying support among legislators in both Bridgeport and New Haven for the Steelpointe project.

“Given yesterday’s announcement, MGM commitment to build a casino in Bridgeport has changed the political landscape entirely,” Verrengia said. “It gives MGM instant credibility. They are putting their money where their mouth is. Many thought MGM was just trying to defeat the East Windsor project.”

Rep. Christopher Rosario, D-Bridgeport, said he wasn’t trying to block East Windsor but he has to align behind the city he represents.

“I’m going to do everything in my power to see resources and jobs brought to Bridgeport,” Rosario said. “If there is a way that allows us to get both Bridgeport and their project, then let’s talk.”

Larson said the Bridgeport announcement was just another attempt to sway public opinion away from the East Windsor project.

Uri Clinton, senior vice president and legal counsel for MGM said Tuesday the BIA’s letter clearly does not meet the legal standard for approval.

A Malloy spokesman said Tuesday the BIA’s letter is expected to now slow down the process.

Andrew Doba, a spokesman for the tribes and their joint venture, MMCT, said the East Windsor property, a vacant movie theater has been purchased and the tribes are poised to move ahead.

“We believe the statues on this issue are clear and are currently reviewing the letter,” Doba said.

Read more http://news.google.com/news/url?sa=t&fd=R&ct2=us&usg=AFQjCNE3hOX6kW9TPtr4uIuImxnOg1BGVA&clid=c3a7d30bb8a4878e06b80cf16b898331&cid=52779612008282&ei=g5DCWcCLEYTwhQG5jLPIBw&url=http://www.courant.com/business/hc-east-windsor-casino-letter-20170919-story.html

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