U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy of Connecticut have called on the Office of the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of the Interior to investigate the department’s inaction on reaching a decision on gaming pact amendments that would enable the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot Tribes to open a casino on nontribal land in East Windsor.The senators, joined by U.S. Reps. John Larson and Joe Courtney of Connecticut, cited a recent article in Politico that claimed MGM Resorts International, which is opening a casino in nearby Springfield, Massachusetts, had lobbied Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to block the East Windsor project.
“Specifically, the Politico article raised issues of potential conflicts of interest and impartial decision making, noting that the secretary refused to even talk with members of the Connecticut delegation about these Connecticut-specific amendments while ‘MGM and its allies had direct access to Interior,’” the legislators wrote.
“The Nevada-based MGM has a direct economic interest regarding Interior’s decision on the proposed amendments, as the casino that is the subject of the amendment could potentially compete with its newly constructed casino on the Connecticut-Massachusetts border. However, MGM has no connection to the legal trust responsibility Interior has to the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot Tribes. As such, the company’s activities should have had no bearing on the question before the department or on its decision regarding the proposed amendments.”
Under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the amendments need federal approval or disapproval within 45 days of their submission. Last September, Michael S. Black, acting assistant secretary for Indian affairs at the Interior Department, sent a letter to the office of Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen stating the department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs was not ready to offer its approval.
“We find there is insufficient information upon which to make a decision as to whether a new casino operated by the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot Tribes would or would not violate the exclusivity clauses of the gaming procedures,” Black wrote.
The tribes and the state of Connecticut filed a lawsuit in November to force the Interior Department to act on the amendments. The tribes have also sought to prevent a change in state law that would open the casino development bidding process to nontribal entities, specifically MGM Resorts and its proposed casino resort project in Bridgeport.