Tribes still facing legal questions in bid for new casino in Connecticut

The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and the Mohegan Tribe can't seem to catch a break when it comes to a new casino in Connecticut.

The latest setback comes from George Jepsen, the state's Democratic attorney general. In a new opinion, he said the tribes shouldn't open the casino until they secure federal approval of their gaming agreements.

With the Trump administration sitting on those agreements for eight months and counting, the tribes have gone to court to force action. And while the state is siding with the tribes as part of the litigation, Jepsen warned that the casino won't be considered legal until the notice of the agreements appears in the Federal Register.

"To take action on the assumption that the state and the tribes will succeed in the ongoing litigation would be highly imprudent," Jepsen said in the opinion released on Tuesday.

The tribes had hoped to open the casino, located in the city of East Windsor, later this year. They chose the site in order to compete with a commercial casino going up across the border in Massachusetts.

But MGM Resorts International, the non-Indian firm behind the rival project, has tried to derail the tribes at every step. The effort appears to be paying off, with the $960 million facility in Springfield expected to debut in September while East Windsor, about 13 miles away, remains in limbo

With that opening approaching, MGM is shooting down “rumors and speculation” about a deal on the other side of Massachusetts. The Wall Street Journal first reported last week that the firm was in "early talks" to take over a different casino connected to fallen billionaire Steve Wynn.

Gaming regulators are reviewing the $2.4 billion Wynn Boston Harbor because of Wynn's handling of alleged sexual harassment complaints within his company. A sale to another firm could protect the license for the facility.

But Massachusetts law only allows a particular company to hold one license. If MGM were to take over Wynn's project, it would have to unload Springfield.

“We remain committed to the opening and success of MGM Springfield,” Debra DeShong, a senior vice president of global corporate communications and industry affairs at MGM, told The Hartford Courant in a statement.

Incidentally, both Connecticut tribes sought licenses in Massachusetts during that state's competitive bidding process. The Mashantuckets first wanted to build in the Boston area, then the southeastern area after the initial plans fell through, while the Mohegans first proposed a casino near Springfield, on the western side.

After failing to gain local support, the Mohegans turned to Boston, in the eastern part of the state. The tribe lost out to Wynn, who has voiced unfavorable views about Indian gaming.

But the tribes aren't saying whether they are interested in Springfield should MGM shift focus.

“We’re not going to comment on rampant speculation. Our concern has been and will continue to be to preserve Connecticut jobs and revenue,” a spokesperson for MMCT Venture, which is the tribes' joint casino firm, told The Courant.

The New England Casino Race: Tribal and commercial gaming facilities in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island

The tribes secured approval under state law to open the new casino, which will not be operated pursuant to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. The land in East Windsor won't be placed in trust either.

But both tribes operate casinos on their reservations pursuant to IGRA. They also share 25 percent of their slot machine revenues with the state in exchange for exclusivity.

To protect that relationship, the tribes updated their arrangements with the state and sent them to the Bureau of Indian Affairs for review last August. Despite a 45-day deadline in IGRA, the Trump administration has failed to say whether it will approve, reject or let the agreements take effect.

Read More on the Story:
AG Advises Lawmakers It Would Be ‘Highly Imprudent’ To Move Forward With East Windsor Casino (CT News Junkie April 17, 2018)
New AG opinion a blow to tribes’ East Windsor casino (The Connecticut Mirror April 17, 2018)
Connecticut Attorney General Cautions Against Casino Expansion Without Federal Approval (The Hartford Courant April 17, 2018)
Possible MGM Bid For Wynn Boston Casino Raises Questions About Springfield (The Hartford Courant April 17, 2018)
Wynn Boston Harbor a good fit for MGM Resorts, analyst says (The Las Vegas Review-Journal April 16, 2018)
Wynn Resorts in Early Talks to Sell Boston-Area Casino Project to MGM (The Wall Street Journal April 12, 2018)

Related Stories:
Trump administration hit for keeping two tribes in Connecticut in the dark (April 6, 2018)
Tribes finally start demolition at site of delayed casino in Connecticut (March 6, 2018)
Tribes still planning to start work on delayed casino in Connecticut (February 28, 2018)
Trump team appears willing to delay tribal casino deal in Connecticut indefinitely (February 6, 2018)
Tribes ready to start initial work on delayed casino in Connecticut (February 2, 2018)

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