Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen just threw the proverbial bucket of cold water on Mohegan Sun’s and Foxwoods’ East Windsor tribal casino project. He cautioned the state to not go ahead with the project until it hears from the Department of the Interior (DOI).
The state legislature approved the casino project last year. That is, pending approval by the DOI
The problem is the DOI has yet to rule on the matter. To this point, the DOI has balked at making a decision of any kind on the tribal casino project.
Unsurprisingly, with an MGM casino set to open in a few months in Springfield, Massachusetts, the tribes and the Connecticut legislature are growing increasingly frustrated with waiting. Now they are exploring any and all options to speed up the process. That includes lawsuits. It also entailed asking the Connecticut AG to weigh in on a plan to bypass the DOI.
On April 17, the Connecticut AG submitted a letter to the Connecticut Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz. In the letter, he derided the idea.
Not the opinion the state was looking for
Jepsen’s opinion warns the legislature against green-lighting the casino through legislative action. If lawmakers did that, they would circumvent the need for the DOI to approve the changes to the current gaming compacts between the state and the tribes.
In his formal opinion Jepsen concluded:
- Public Act 17-89’s condition that the amendments to the existing gaming agreements be approved by the U.S. Department of the Interior (Interior) has not been satisfied;
- because that condition has not been satisfied, Public Act 17-89’s authorization to conduct casino gaming in East Windsor is not yet effective;
- eliminating the federal approval condition would raise risks for the current gaming arrangements with the Tribes about which we have previously opined and continue to have serious concerns;
According to Jepsen, the legislature would be playing a risky game if it forgoes the provision requiring DOI approval:
“Although we have confidence in the position we have taken that the amendments should be treated as deemed approved, it remains possible that the court could rule adversely. To take action on the assumption that the State and Tribes will succeed in the ongoing litigation would be highly imprudent.”
And with that, the chances for legislative action this year are close to zero. The fate of the East Windsor casino project is now at the mercy of the DOI.
Delay will likely further agitate the situation
With the East Windsor casino stuck in the mud, MGM Resorts has swooped into Connecticut. It brings its own ideas for generating gaming revenue.
The gaming-industry heavyweight is pushing the state to scrap the East Windsor idea. MGM suggest to open up a casino bidding process instead. An open process could lead to a commercial casino coming to Connecticut.
In his opinion, Jepsen seemed to sign off on the idea of studying the situation. He elaborated:
“Legislation similar to Special Act 15-7 that would provide for a request for proposal process for sports betting or casino gaming, but requiring subsequent legislation to actually authorize such activity, would not affect the existing gaming arrangements with the Tribes.”
The tribes argue the mere act of studying commercial casinos in Connecticut will put the state on a path that leads to the nullification of the existing tribal gaming compacts. If that happens, it would end the lucrative revenue-sharing agreement tribes have with the state of Connecticut.
As such, simply considering the option of opening the state up to a casino bidding process could be very problematic.
Both sides have bickered back and forth and attempted to discredit the others fiscal findings. With the AG’s opinion likely shelving the tribal casino project for the time being, this fight is likely to increase in intensity.