Connecticut is currently considering four gambling bills that cover different aspects of the activity. However, there may be trouble ahead for at least two, as two state tribes could become embroiled in a legal matter after it was revealed that former Department of the Interior (DoI) Secretary Ryan Zinke possibly lied to federal investigators regarding a partnership between the two tribes.
One of the bills being reviewed would have allowed the Mohegans and the Mashantucket Pequots to join forces to introduce a casino in East Windsor. In order for that to happen, both tribes must have a federal compact in place. The DoI has approved a compact for the Mohegan tribe, but not for the Pequot tribe.
According to a report by The Washington Post, the move stalled, according to the tribes, because of political pressure and the DoI’s Office of the Inspector General launched an investigation years ago. Now, the IG’s office has asserted that Zinke lied to them during that investigation.
Prosecutors have now started to present evidence to a Washington grand jury in order to determine whether or not Zinke did, in fact, lie and whether or not he should be charged with any crimes. Zinke denies any wrongdoing, stating, “I sided with a principle that I didn’t want to take a position on something that was off the reservation. I had multiple legal counselors’ opinions about what was legal. The investigators may not have liked my answers, but they were truthful.”
Officials with the DoI had tentatively agreed to the tribal partnership in 2017. However, in September of that year, the department suddenly declined the deal, leading to a lawsuit by Connecticut and the Mashantucket Pequot Indians. The tribe argued that Zinke had been influenced by two politicians who had received contributions from MGM Resorts, a competitor for a casino in Connecticut.
After the announcement was made that a grand jury had been convened to consider prosecuting Zinke, the chief of staff of the Mohegan tribe, Chuck Bunnell, stated, “I wish I could say I was shocked to hear that there might be a grand jury, and there might be investigations into political influence peddling. It’s extremely disappointing, but unfortunately, not shocking.”
Fortunately, gambling expansion in Connecticut won’t completely die because of the ordeal, but it could definitely suffer a setback. The delays resulting from the investigations and grand jury hearings will have an impact on bills being considered and could lead to a halt in the forward progress already seen.