Four Connecticut lawmakers are demanding a federal probe of the U.S. Department of Interior’s (DOI) decision to sit on the request of tribal casino operators to expand their operations in the state.
Politico reported that U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy and U.S. Reps. John Larson and Joe Courtney prodded the federal Office of the Inspector General to investigate the DOI for what they described as “highly unusual decision to take no action” on the state’s request to amend two tribal gaming compacts.
Tribal operators Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun needed the DOI’s nod to be able to proceed with the construction of a casino off tribal land in East Windsor.
In a letter to the Inspector General, the four lawmakers accused the DOI of refusing to talk to the members of the Connecticut delegation, who were tasked with explaining the proposed changes in the tribe’s gaming compacts, which are opposed by commercial casino operator MGM Resorts International and its allies.
They cited a February 1 Politico article, which reported MGM’s intense lobbying and the meetings DOI Secretary Ryan Zinke had with Nevada Sen. Dean Heller and Rep. Mark Amodei, while the tribes’ amended compact request gathered dust on Zinke’s desk.
The legislators are convinced that Zinke’s extensive contact with MGM suggests a strong conflict of interest since “MGM has no connection to the legal trust responsibility Interior has to the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot Tribes.”
“These actions suggest that something other than the legal obligations to Indian Tribes was motivation the decision of the Department of the Interior,” the lawmakers said, according to the news outlet.
Last year, the state approved legislation amending the compacts and approving the new casino, which is to be built near the state’s northern border with Massachusetts.
The new casino is intended as a hedge to keep Connecticut gamblers from flocking across the border to MGM Springfield, the flashy $960 million MGM Resorts property that will open in Massachusetts this year. MGM has fought tooth and nail against approval of the new tribal casino.
In December, Connecticut’s two gaming tribes joined the state in suing the federal government over delays in approving the new casino project.