Artist's rendering of the Tribal Winds Casino, to be owned and operated by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and the Mohegan Tribe in East Windsor, Connecticut. Image: Tribal Winds Casino

Tribes at odds with governor over expansion of gaming in Connecticut

The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and the Mohegan Tribe are supporting a bill to expand gaming in Connecticut but the governor is backing rival legislation that could undermine their existing rights.

The tribes believe S.B.21, the Connecticut Jobs and Revenue Act, is consistent with their Class III gaming agreements, which promise them exclusivity for Class III games. In exchange, they share 25 percent of their slot machine revenues with the state.

But Gov. Ned Lamont (D) is endorsing different proposals -- including H.B.5168 and H.B.5189 -- that would up sports betting to the state and non-Indian operators. Going that route jeopardizes the millions of dollars the tribes share with the state, Mashantucket and Mohegan officials told the Connecticut Legislature's Public Safety and Security Committee Tuesday.

"if some of the competing bills under consideration by the committee were to emerge, Connecticut would stand to lose approximately $250 million annually in exchange for $15 million annual," Mashantucket Chairman Rodney Butler said in written testimony.

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

Raymond Pineault, a regional vice president for Mohegan Gaming and Entertainment, brought up similar issues in his testimony. He called on the state to live up to the "partnership" envisioned by the Class III agreements.

"In must be noted that the exclusivity agreements between the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot Tribes and the State of Connecticut provide for the highest percentage of revenue sharing of the 193 Tribal Compacts in the country," Pineault said in his testimony. "This is a significant contribution that has totaled more than $8 billion over the past two decades, and it is one that the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot Tribes continue to make per our agreements, and we do so proudly."

According to Lamont, the tribes should be able to offer sports betting on their reservations. Off-reservation, the legislation he supports authorizes others to do the same.

“The governor is committed to a fair resolution that brings Connecticut’s gaming economy into the 21st century," a statement issued on Tuesday read. "He wants to sign a sports betting bill into law over the next few months. Any such proposal, however, must be designed to avoid and withstand endless legal challenges, include multiple, competing mobile platforms off the tribes’ reservations, and build upon the existing footprints of all of the state’s existing gaming operators.”

In addition to authorizing sports betting to the tribes and only to the tribes, the Connecticut Jobs and Revenue Act authorizes new off-reservation gaming facilities that would be operated by the tribes. The tribes already partnered on one such "shovel ready" project but it has yet to significantly advance even after they overcame years of legal and regulatory hurdles at the state and federal level.

Lamont stood by the Mashantuckets and the Mohegans throughout the uncertainty. Together, the tribes and the state eventually prevailed in litigation against the Trump administration, in which the Bureau of Indian Affairs was required to approve updates to their Class III agreements.

In his testimony, Butler said the tribes are committed to building the off-reservation Tribal Winds Casino in East Windsor. It would compete directly with a non-Indian facility right across the border in neighboring Massachusetts.

The Connecticut Jobs and Revenue Act authorizes tribally-operated facilities in more lucrative areas, including Bridgeport, which is about 65 miles from New York City. Lamont does not support the new sites,

Read More on the Story
Lamont and tribes deadlock over sports betting (The Connecticut Mirror March 3, 2020)
Lamont opposes tribes-only sports betting, Bridgeport casino (The Connecticut Post March 3, 2020)
Lamont, tribes at impasse in negotiations over rights to sports betting (The New London Day March 3, 2020)
Gov. Lamont has never bet on sports, but wants a deal on sports betting (The Hartford Courant March 3, 2020)
Gov. Ned Lamont backs narrow sports betting bill that would let tribal casinos, OTBs and CT Lottery operate industry (The Hartford Courant March 3, 2020)
Connecticut Governor Clashes With Tribes on Sports Betting (The Wall Street Journal March 3, 2020)

Federal Register Notices
Indian Gaming; Amendment to Class III Gaming Procedures for the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe (March 25, 2019)
Indian Gaming; Tribal-State Class III Gaming Compact Taking Effect in the State of Connecticut (June 1, 2018)

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