April 17, 2018

New AG opinion a blow to tribes' East Windsor casino

Rendering | Contributed
Rendering | Contributed
A rendering of the proposed East Windsor casino.

Attorney General George Jepsen strongly warned the legislature Tuesday against allowing the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes to jointly develop a casino in East Windsor without the approval of the Interior Department, a condition of the 2017 law permitting the project to compete with MGM Springfield.

The opinion is likely to be the final blow in this legislative session to any hopes by the tribes to circumvent the requirement of Interior Department approval.

In a formal opinion sought by House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, Jepsen said his office still views approval by the Interior Department of amendments to the state's gaming compacts and memoranda of understanding with the tribes are necessary to guarantee the new project would not jeopardize Connecticut's existing revenue-sharing arrangement with them.

"Our view of the risks of proceeding without federal approval of the amendments is unchanged. Indeed, subsequent events and actions of Interior only reaffirm our view that approval of the amendments is highly recommended to protect the State's interests under the Compacts and the MOUs," Jepsen wrote.

The tribes now pay the state 25 percent of the gross slots revenue at their two casinos, Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun, under deals that give the two federally recognized tribes exclusive casino gaming rights. That is expected to produce at least $260 million this year.

The Interior Department has refused to accept or reject proposed amendments to the gaming agreements, blocking construction of the jointly owned casino on a hillside overlooking I-91 between Hartford and Springfield. The state and tribes are suing the Interior Department over its refusal to act.

"To take action on the assumption that the State and Tribes will succeed in the onging litigation would be highly imprudent," Jepsen wrote.

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