Federal regulators give green light to East Windsor casino

After last month when Connecticut legislators were reportedly advised not to allow MMCT Venture to open its satellite casino in the community of East Windsor prior to its receipt of official approvals from the United States Department of the Interior (DOI), federal regulators have now reportedly made it possible for the operators of Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort Casino to build a third casino in the town in Hartford County.

The Hartford Courant newspaper reports that changes to Connecticut’s revenue sharing agreement with the Mohegan Tribe will be published by the U.S. Department of Interior in a notice on Friday, while a similar notification is reportedly expected for the Mashantucket Pequots shortly.

The published notices would reportedly satisfy the remaining requirement of Public Act 17-89, signed by Governor Dannel Malloy (D) last year that authorized the expansion of casino gambling on non-sovereign land for the first time. The law, however, also put Connecticut’s gaming compact with the tribes into question, as it mandates that the state refrain from expanding gambling. The publication of the notices would reportedly satisfy the last requirement of the state law.

Spokesman for the Mohegan Tribe and Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation’s MMCT Venture, Andrew Doba, said, “We are pleased that the department is taking this step, and we expect a similar action on the Mashantucket Pequot tribal amendments in the very near future.” Doba added, “Today’s decision is the latest step int he overall goal to preserve thousands of good paying jobs and millions in tax revenue,” as reported by the Hartford Courant.

In March, MMCT Venture began demolition of the former Showcase Cinema in East Windsor that was shuttered in 2008, after the joint enterprise of the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority and Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation won state approval in July to bring its casino to northern Hartford County. The $300 million property, with its 100,000 square foot gaming floor, will reportedly help to stem the flow of money headed out of state and into the new $950 million MGM Resorts International property slated to open in neighboring Springfield, Massachusetts on August 24, 2018.

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MMCT Venture could not begin operations until the DOI’s Bureau of Indian Affairs subordinate signed off on changes that were made to the two tribes’ existing gambling compacts as part of the local licensing process. That legal roadblock gave MGM Resorts International enough time to lobby against the plan by pushing for legislators to immediately initiate a competitive bidding process for the East Windsor’s license.

The argument by the tribes and proponents of East Windsor was reportedly that the lack of action by the Interior Department last fall meant the necessary amendments to those compacts were “deemed” approved. The court case that resulted, in which the tribes and the state joined to see that the interior Department publish the notice of no action in the Federal Register, was to protect the tribe’s investment in East Windsor and the revenue to the state.

The delays led to an investigation of Secretary Ryan Zinke’s handling of the matter. The investigation that was launched earlier this year by the Interior Department’s inspector general is ongoing.

Making note of the time MGM Resorts International had to prepare the Springfield property and the time lost by the tribes in mounting a defense against Springfield, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn, reportedly said that the delay of approval for the compact changes by the DOI “has exacted real world costs and the investigation into conflicts of interest must continue,” said Blumenthal.

Blumenthal went on to say, “They have reached the right result at the wrong time.” Adding that, “The right result was to approve this agreement right away and not delay for months this decision that they had the legal duty to make.”

The newspaper reports that Blumenthal, along with U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy and Reps. Joe Courtney and John Larson also raised questions about MGM’s intense lobbying at the Interior Department and 7BALL whether that had an effect on the delays.

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The Las Vegas-based MGM Resorts International has argued that it was unfairly excluded from submitting an offer for the state’s third casino license, and in September last year, announced plans to build its $675 million waterfront MGM Bridgeport facility along Long Island Sound in Bridgeport’s Steelpointe Harbor, complete with over 100,000 square feet of gaming space and a 300-room hotel.

MGM’s proposed Bridgeport facility is within approximately 42 miles of NYC, reportedly the likely target of the venue along with the surrounding communities. However, legislation that could see MGM Resort’s Bridgeport facility come to fruition died in the Senate earlier this month, shelving HB 5305 until next year.

The Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes are adamantly opposed to House Bill 5305, which would, ironically, open Connecticut to commercial casinos, and say that it would threaten the revenue sharing agreements that were negotiated in the 90’s, giving the tribes exclusive rights to operate slot machines within the state borders. The compacts guarantee the 25% of slots revenues the two casinos have paid annually since opening over two decades ago, as long as that exclusivity remains. Those revenue sharing agreements have reportedly benefitted the state by upwards of $7 billion cumulatively.