The Schaghicoke Tribal Nation has hired former U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman – who once fought against the tribe’s efforts to win federal recognition – to help them sue the state over a gambling law that allows only the state’s two gaming tribes to open a new casino.
In their legal challenge, the Schaghticoke have joined forces with MGM, which has also been blocked from building a casino in Connecticut.
The tribe is represented by Lieberman and David E. Ross, who both work for the New York law firm of Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman LLP. The Schaghticokes say the state violated the U.S. Constitution’s “equal protection” clause with a law enacted last year, Special Act No. 15-7, that allows only the state’s “sovereign friends,” that is the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes, to establish gaming operations in the state.
“The act is but the latest unconscionable effort by Connecticut … to undermine and interfere with the rights of STN and with STN’s economic and development efforts, while supporting the interests of the Privileged Tribes…from whose existing casinos on reservation land the State derives enormous financial benefits,” said the lawsuit filed on Monday in federal court in Hartford.
The lawsuit also said that “by enacting a scheme that expressly and effectively provides that ‘no others need apply’, the Act is unlawfully discriminatory.”
“Indeed, though the State has a legal obligation to treat equally and fairly, and to support equally, all state-recognized Native Americans in Connecticut, the Act deprives all Native Americans who are not members of the favored tribes of an equal opportunity to plan and develop a new commercial casino,” the lawsuit said.
Malloy administration spokesman Devon Puglia said he did not want to “weigh in” on the issue.
MGM, which is building a new casino in Springfield, Mass., has also sued the state over the new law. It allows the tribal operators of Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun to join together to search for a location in central Connecticut for a third casino – the first off tribal lands.
MGM’s lawsuit says the state unfairly excluded other potential operators and allowed the Mashantucket Pequots and Mohegans to operate both on their reservation and in a commercial venture.
In a joint statement, the Mashantucket Pequots and the Mohegans accused Schaghticoke Tribal Nation Chief Richard Velky of “being bankrolled by MGM.”
“This startling revelation – which according to the chief was a year in the making – should raise a red flag for anyone who is concerned about MGM’s plan to steal jobs from Connecticut residents,” the statement said.
Although they have a state-recognized reservation in Kent, the Schaghticokes have struggled for years to win federal recognition.
Their last chance was an overhaul of tribal recognition rules by the Bureau of Indian Affairs last year.
Although the BIA streamlined the process, making it easier for many tribes to win federal acknowledgement, the final regulations barred the Eastern Pequots of North Stonington, the Golden Hill Paugussetts of Colchester and Trumbull, and the Schaghticokes from making another application. The entire Connecticut political establishment has, for years, strongly opposed the tribes’ recognition and still does.
Lieberman, who left the Congress in January 2013, was once a part of that political establishment that fought the tribes’ recognition and tried to toughen federal recognition rules.
He could not be reached for comment Monday evening.
Last month, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill notified the Schaghticokes of the approval of a filing for a articles of organization for a limited liability corporation, Confluence of Rivers Tribal Business Entity, that the tribe created for the sole purpose of developing a casino.
The next day Merrill said approval of the business filing had been “in error.”