National Indian group urges Zinke to act on CT tribes’ casino issue

Courtesy of Mohegan Sun

A roulette wheel in the Casino of the Wind at Mohegan Sun

Washington – The National Congress of American Indians came to the support of Connecticut’s Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes Thursday, urging Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to approve a change in their gaming compacts that would clear the way for the tribes to operate a new casino in East Windsor.

The tribes run two casinos in Connecticut under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which allows federally recognized tribes to operate casinos on their reservations or lands held in trust by the federal government.

However, the casino they want to operate under a company jointly owned by the tribes, called MMCT Venture, is a commercial project.

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy and the state legislature signed off on that arrangement last year, as long as the federal government approved amendments to their gaming compacts that guarantee a share of slot revenues would continue to go to the state. The agreement between the tribes and the state says that revenue sharing would end if a new casino opens in the state.

More than sixth months after the amendments were sent to the Interior Department, the agency has done nothing.

On Thursday, the National Congress of American Indians, the largest tribal organization in the nation, told Zinke he did not have “the discretion” to not weigh in.

“If the Secretary does not approve or disapprove a compact within 45 days, the compact shall be considered to have been approved,” the letter form NCAI President Jefferson Keel said. “At that time, the Secretary is required by law to act: “shall publish in the Federal Register notice of any Tribal-State compact that is approved, or considered to have been approved.”

The Interior Department and the Bureau of Indian Affairs did not have an immediate response to Keel’s letter.

But last year, the tribes received a letter from Michael Black, acting assistant secretary of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, that said his agency had completed a review of their amendments and that “action on the amendments is premature and likely unnecessary.”

MGM has fought hard to block the East Windsor casino, which would compete with an MGM casino under development in Springfield, Mass. Black’s letter was copied to two members of Congress from Nevada, home of MGM.

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