Connecticut’s two tribal gaming operators plan to start work on the site of their controversial joint venture casino before the year is through.
On Wednesday, the Hartford Courant reported that the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes planned to commence construction of their East Windsor casino by the end of 2017, with the first step being the demolition of a former cinema that currently sits on the property in the northern portion of the state.
While state legislators have signed off on the tribes’ plans to build a third casino off tribal land, the federal Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) has been less clear on whether the new casino would void the tribes’ existing gaming compacts, which require each tribe to kick back 25% of their slots revenue to the state in exchange for slots exclusivity and the promise that no other casinos would be authorized in the state.
In September, the BIA issued a letter in September detailing its view that action on the tribes’ proposed amendments to their gaming compacts was “premature and likely unnecessary.” In October, tribal reps met with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who asked them to submit information explaining why the department needed to comment on a commercial casino project to be built off tribal land.
The tribes, for their part, have argued that the BIA’s silence is effectively consent, a view supported by three members of Connecticut’s federal delegation – Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Sen. Chris Murphy and Rep. Joe Courtney – who sent a letter last week urging Zinke to take a formal stand on the issue.
The tribes’ plan has met with vocal opposition from MGM Resorts, which is constructing the $960m MGM Springfield resort casino in Massachusetts, just across the border from the tribes’ proposed JV casino. MGM’s new property is scheduled to open next September.
The tribes have made it plain that their JV casino is intended keep gambling dollars in Connecticut by luring gamblers who might otherwise be tempted to visit MGM Springfield. MGM has mounted multiple legal challenges of the tribes’ JV plans but has so far come up empty. MGM has also enlisted its own Washington politicians to lobby the BIA to reject the tribe’s plans.
MGM’s latest ploy was to propose its own $600m Connecticut casino in the southern portion of the state near Bridgeport. MGM has led a “communications campaign” to promote its plans but the tribes, state legislators and Gov. Dannel Malloy have dismissed these plans as unrealistic.