Sen. John McCain Courtesy of Creative Commons
Sen. John McCain Courtesy of Creative Commons

MGM Resorts is using a new letter from U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in its campaign to stop Connecticut’s two federally recognized tribes from opening a casino in East Windsor to compete with an MGM gambling resort under construction in Springfield.

In a letter dated Tuesday, McCain urged Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to disavow an advisory letter the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes obtained from the Obama administration indicating that their proposal would not jeopardize existing compacts with Connecticut.

The status of the compacts is a crucial factor in the casino debate, since MGM and other opponents argue that a new casino off tribal lands would jeopardize more than $260 million in annual revenue sharing the tribes now pay to Connecticut.

The tribes currently give the state 25 percent of gross slots revenue from their tribal casinos, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, in return for exclusive rights to slots and table games in Connecticut.

“The Tribes and the State of Connecticut believe that operating a joint gaming venture on off-reservation land, as sanctioned by state law, allows them to and skirt the existing legal framework for pursuing off-reservation gaming under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, (IGRA)” McCain wrote. “As a principal author of IGRA, I have grave objections about the previous Administration’s apparent circumvention of over 25 years of Indian gaming law.”

McCain asked Zinke not to “make the same mistake as the previous Administration and avoid issuing a technical assistance letter that would assist in an unprecedented expansion of off-reservation gambling.”

McCain’s letter mischaracterizes the tribes’ proposal for a facility near the Massachusetts line as allowing them to “open an off-reservation casino near the Connecticut-New York border just a few miles from New York City.”

The tribes called the letter “an eleventh-hour tactic by MGM to stall our growing momentum,” both in Hartford and in working with the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the Department of the Interior.

“It’s clear MGM owes an apology … to Senator McCain. They purposely gave him bad information, which makes sense considering they’ve been doing the same with Connecticut’s elected leaders for months,” the tribes said.

Uri CLinton, the MGM vice president who has been leading the lobbying effort against the tribes, said his company did not influence McCain. It reflected his knowledge of Indian gaming law and his own concerns, Clinton said.

“Nobody’s telling McCain what to do. He wrote IGRA,” Clinton said.

Julie Tarallo, a spokeswoman for McCain, did not respond to the question of whether MGM sought his letter, instead describing the senator as having “a long history of Vegas-style Indian gaming operations on land not contiguous to tribal reservations.”

“Just last year, Senator McCain cosponsored legislation that would effectively block an Arizona tribe from opening an Indian casino in the noncontiguous city of Glendale, Arizona,” she said in an email. “Similarly, with the Connecticut legislature expected to advance legislation amending the state’s compact, Senator McCain sent a letter encouraging the Department of the Interior not to misapply its technical assistance services in the same way the previous administration did.”

Clinton said he did obtain the letter from McCain’s office and gave it to Global Strategy, one of the firms representing MGM in Connecticut. Global provided a copy to the office of Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen, which has been asked to judge the legal risks of allowing the tribes to jointly develop a commercial casino.

The tribes currently give the state 25 percent of gross slots revenue from their tribal casinos, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, in return for exclusive rights to slots and table games in Connecticut.

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Mark PazniokasCapitol Bureau Chief

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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