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October 17, 2019Cart

Business

by Fairfield County Business Journal
by FCBJ

Much-delayed Tribal Winds casino finally gets federal OK

Connecticut will get a third casino, as the much-delayed Tribal Winds establishment in East Windsor finally received federal approval today.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) announced that a notice of its approval will be published in the Federal Register on March 25.

Artist rendering of the planned Tribal Winds Casino.

The casino, to be built and operated jointly by the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes – who operate the Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos, respectively – received approval from East Windsor’s Board of Selectmen and from the state in 2017 but had become stuck in a kind of political limbo since then.

The state’s endorsement was dependent upon the DOI’s approval of amendments to the tribes’ agreements with Connecticut, which included a guarantee that the East Windsor facility would not violate the existing compact under which the tribes pay 25 percent of the slots revenue from their two existing casinos.

But lobbying efforts by MGM Resorts International, which opened the MGM Springfield casino last year in Massachusetts – against which Tribal Winds would compete – succeeded in delaying the DOI’s decision on the amendments. The tribes and the state then filed a lawsuit against the department, with a Congressional request for the inspector general to investigate the circumstances of the DOI’s failure to act.

DOI finally accepted an amendment to the Mohegans’ compact with Connecticut last May, but then-DOI Secretary Ryan Zinke refused to act upon the Mashantucket Pequot amendment – which effectively would have blocked construction, in accordance with the 2017 law.

Last month a U.S. District Judge in Washington, D.C. ruled that Connecticut and the Mashantucket Pequot tribe could move forward with their lawsuit against Zinke, which alleges that he acted improperly to prevent the construction of Tribal Winds. Zinke resigned from the DOI in December amidst a number of investigations tied to his real estate dealings in Montana and conduct while in office.

“Today is a great day for the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and the state of Connecticut, especially given our 400-year history together,” Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, said in a statement. “I applaud the actions of the Department of Interior and extend my sincerest gratitude to Assistant Secretary Tara Sweeney and the Office of the Solicitor at the Interior Department for their assistance in resolving this matter.’

“Now that the approval of our amendment is secured and our exclusivity agreement with the state of Connecticut is reaffirmed,” he said, “we will move forward with construction on Tribal Winds Casino in East Windsor and preserve much needed jobs and revenue.”

Butler has estimated the casino can bring in $70 million for the state, and that the project will support 5,000 jobs from the start of construction through its grand opening, with at least 2,000 of those being permanent jobs once Tribal Winds opens. The tribes have said the project is “shovel-ready” and that it will open 18 to 24 months after construction begins.

“We are very pleased that the Interior Department has decided to approve the amendments to Mashantucket Gaming Procedures and Memorandum of Understanding,” said Gov. Ned Lamont’s spokesperson Maribel La Luz. “Approval of these amendments ensures that any state law authorizing MMCT to operate a commercial casino off of the tribal reservations will do no harm to the state’s existing revenue sharing agreements with the tribes.

“We remain committed to working with the tribes toward a global resolution of all outstanding legal issues or obstacles that may arise out of this decision,” she continued, “including any lawsuits third parties may bring against the state law that now authorizes MMCT to operate a commercial casino in East Windsor.”

The approval comes two days after the Public Safety Committee passed a bill authorizing an East Windsor casino to be built by the tribes without federal approval, and another that creates a competitive bidding process for a new commercial casino, most likely in Bridgeport. MGM has been a vocal supporter of the latter bill.