Two new developments may slow down or ultimately halt efforts to construct the proposed third Connecticut casino in East Windsor.
The U.S. Department of the Interior is asking federal judges to throw out a lawsuit against them brought by the Mashantucket Pequots, the Mohegan Tribe, and the state of Connecticut.
Simultaneously, state lawmakers from Bridgeport have floated that they will ask their colleagues during the upcoming session to revoke the license given to Mashantucket Mohegan Connecticut, or MMCT, for the rights to build the East Windsor casino.
Both these would be positive developments for MGM Resorts International, which is building a rival casino in Springfield, Massachusetts, and is hoping that the bid for Connecticut’s third casino could be back on the table.
Uri Clinton, MGM’s spokesman, believes action in the state legislature could speed up any payback for the state. He believes that MMCT still has to finance the project and that the lawsuit will end up dragging through court.
“It’s probably five years or more” he said. “In the meantime, during that five-year period, there’s no revenue from commercial gaming to the state, there are no jobs from commercial gaming in the state as opposed to clearing the decks, getting rid of all that litigation by passing the bill for an open, competitive process allowing for that process to go through this session, a license be awarded next session and then you start your construction.”
On the other hand, the tribes see the lawsuit as their best way forward.
Governor Dannel Malloy signed legislation last year approving a third casino in Connecticut to be run by the tribal nations representing the other two casinos—Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun. The U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs had 45 days to approve or deny the changes to Connecticut’s gaming compact with the tribes.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke did respond, but failed to give a “yay” or a “nay,” throwing the whole project into doubt, prompting the lawsuit.
“It basically said their decision is unnecessary,” said Andrew Doba, the spokesman for the MMCT tribal joint venture. “But, the law doesn’t give them that option. So, under the law, because they didn’t deny us, it should be deemed approved.”
But with or without legal approval, it appears the venture is moving forward with their plans. Doba says MMCT has hired an architect and a project manager to prepare the proposed site for construction - the former cinema complex off I-91 in East Windsor.
“We are going to be demolishing the Showcase [Cinemas] structure before the month is over,” Doba said. “We’re moving forward. We hope it won’t get dragged out in court for too long, but, at the end of the day, we believe we have the law on our side.”
Senator Richard Blumenthal accused MGM of leveraging its lobbying relationships with Zinke to slow down the MMCT venture. He said that the Department of Interior’s inaction made them complicit with MGM in holding up any deal.
“The public interests, not the special interests of MGM, ought to prevail,” Blumenthal said. “The Interior Department has a legal responsibility to make a decision and to make it in favor of the tribes because it has a trust responsibility to those tribes.”
But MGM’s Uri Clinton said that both MMCT and MGM are lobbying to get their way. He believes MGM had no other option after what he characterized was an unfair bidding process for the third casino.
“Does the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act govern casino development off of tribal land? The answer is no,” Clinton said. “And so that is the point that we’ve made to everybody that will listen. That’s not negative lobbying. That’s presenting legal points for consideration to the governmental entity in charge of making the decision.”
The existing compact between MMCT and Connecticut guarantees at least $160 million for the state in revenue generated from slot machines. Clinton said MGM could do better business for Connecticut if given the opportunity in Bridgeport.