December 13, 2018

Bypassing feds on casino: State bill would stipulate changes made to compact don't need approval

Photo | Contributed
Photo | Contributed
A rendering of the proposed casino and entertainment complex in East Windsor.

State legislators from the area are among the co-sponsors of a bipartisan bill to bypass the federal government's role in approving changes to tribal compacts required to open a casino in East Windsor.

The bill, submitted for the coming legislative session, aims to clarify the U.S. Interior Department's task of approving minor changes in the state's agreements with the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes. The goal is to secure quicker approval and enable the tribes to open the East Windsor casino to compete with MGM Springfield.

Sens. Timothy Larson, D-East Hartford, and Stephen T. Cassano, D-Manchester, have joined several other state senators and representatives in co-sponsoring the proposal.

Cassano said the bill aims to maintain the jobs associated with the two existing tribal casinos while creating jobs in East Windsor.

The Interior Department approved changes in May to the state's agreement with the Mohegans, but has yet to approve changes to the state's compact with the Pequots. Both OKs are needed to begin operation of the East Windsor casino.

In September 2017, however, the Interior Department's acting assistant secretary for Indian affairs, Michael Black, wrote to the tribes and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy that department action on the compacts was "unnecessary at this time" because the adjusted language didn't violate exclusivity provisions established in 1994.

Sen. Catherine Osten, D-Sprague, said the state doesn't need federal approval to amend the agreements because there is no impact on exclusivity.

"They said so last year," she said. "So let's codify that in state law and get moving on the East Windsor casino because every day we wait is another job and another dollar out the door for Connecticut."

In September, a federal court ruled that the Interior Department couldn't be compelled to approve the amended revenue-sharing agreement between the Pequots and the state.

Legislators say the delay is adversely affecting economic and job growth.

Cassano suggested the federal approval was being delayed by President Donald Trump's administration to benefit MGM.

"There's a connection there," Cassano said. "That does not bode well for Connecticut. It makes it a lot more difficult for us."

"I think there's a fair amount of confusion and disarray in Washington, D.C., right now as it is," Osten said. "We've already been told our decades-old compact with the tribes is not affected by the new East Windsor casino, so let's do what we have to legislatively to get people working in Connecticut as soon as possible."

Cassano added that his priority is to legalize online sports gambling. He also said he wouldn't oppose casino expansion in Bridgeport to attract gamers from the New York market.

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