Connecticut moves closer to construction of a third casino

mark pazniokas / ctmirror.org

Mohegan leader Kevin Brown gives a pen to a tribal member as the governor signs a ceremonial copy of a casino bill. At right, is the Mashantucket Pequot leader, Rodney Butler.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and tribal leaders signed documents Thursday amending Connecticut’s relationship with its two federally recognized tribes, another step toward allowing them to jointly develop a casino in the Hartford suburb of East Windsor, as authorized in legislation approved last month by the General Assembly.

Amendments revising the tribal compacts now go to the legislature and then to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which has informally indicated it would approve the terms of the tribes’ first casino off tribal lands, a facility intended to blunt the impact of a competing casino MGM Resorts International is building over the state line in Springfield.

The last official word before construction, however, is likely to come from a U.S. District Court judge: MGM vows to seek an injunction, claiming that the law granting exclusive rights to the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribal nations violates the equal protection and commerce clauses of the U.S. Constitution. A previous suit was dismissed as premature.

“We continue to believe that the process put in place by the legislature and signed today by the governor violates both the Connecticut and U.S. Constitutions. As such, we will continue to pursue all legal remedies,” said Uri Clinton, the senior vice president and legal counsel at MGM.

Kevin Brown, the Mohegan tribal chairman, said MGM’s threat is nothing new, and the tribes successfully made their case for a new casino to the governor and legislature “under the shadow of litigation.”

Malloy announced he had signed revisions to the state’s tribal compacts at a ceremonial signing of the casino law in the Old Judiciary Room of the State Capitol, surrounded by officials from the tribes and East Windsor, and legislators and union members who fought for passage. He signed the actual bill into law on June 27.

The governor played a pivotal role in passage of the casino law, dropping his neutrality in an interview with CT Mirror on May 19. At the time, MGM was lobbying lawmakers to reject the tribes’ proposal and instead permit an open competition for the right to develop a casino in Fairfield County, tapping the New York City market.

Malloy effectively killed the MGM alternative by saying the only casino bill he would sign was one that respected the state’s exclusivity agreement with the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribal nations. Under the deal, the tribes pay the state 25 percent of the gross slots revenue at their casinos, Foxwoods Resort and Mohegan Sun.

The governor said Thursday the legislature did the right thing allowing a limited expansion of gaming for the sole purpose of minimizing the loss of jobs and revenue sharing once MGM Springfield opens in 2018.

“We know this is worth fighting for, it’s worth protecting,” Malloy said. “Quite frankly, it’s worth keeping Connecticut dollars being spent in Connecticut as opposed to going up 91 and being spent someplace else.”

Malloy said the state will defend the law as a measure that protects the state’s interest, not one that improperly favors a business interest, as MGM alleges.

“I believe we have acted appropriately as a state to protect the interest of the state, as well as our partners, the tribal nations, and obviously to the benefit of those who remain employed at those facilities and this new facility,” Malloy said.

The new casino, whose construction already has won local approval in East Windsor, will be built just off I-91 on the site of a vacant cineplex that will be demolished. The tribes will pay the state 25 percent of the gross revenues from table games and slots.

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