October 18, 2018

Mashantucket Pequot tribe challenges court ruling on E. Windsor casino

PHOTO | Joe Cooper
PHOTO | Joe Cooper
Foxwoods' Grand Pequot Tower.

The Mashantucket Pequot tribal nation is urging a federal court to reconsider its lawsuit against a federal official they say was coaxed into blocking their proposed casino and entertainment complex in East Windsor.

Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke last year declined to approve the East Windsor casino proposal from the Mashantucket tribe, which operates Foxwoods Resort Casino, and Mohegan Sun. Zinke's approval is sought to be required for Connecticut to authorize the proposed $300 million project.

Zinke's decision came amid a lobbying campaign from MGM Resorts International and Nevada Republican lawmakers Sen. Dean Heller and U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei. Meantime, MGM was in the process of building its $960 million casino in Springfield, which opened in August.

The proposed East Windsor casino, the nation's first joint tribal gaming project, is meant to combat lost gambling and entertainment revenues to Springfield.

In the new federal court filing Wednesday, the tribe and state of Connecticut said they were assured by the Interior Department several times from 2016 through summer 2017 the deal would be approved. The department, they said, never indicated any concerns with the proposed deal.

However, the tribe says the Interior Department reversed course at "the last minute" due to "enormous political pressure" from Heller and Amodei "without justification."

The filing says the Interior Department's decision to not approve the casino proposal resulted after "improper political influence" and is in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act.

Connecticut and the tribes last year sued the Interior Department in federal court arguing the department was improperly influenced by MGM.

Last month, Judge Rudolph Contreras of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled Connecticut and the Mashantucket Pequots have no legal standing to compel Zinke to accept revisions to the state's long-standing gambling agreement with the tribe.

Contreras approved the federal government's motion to dismiss the 2017 lawsuit, granting MGM the right to intervene if Connecticut and the tribe appeal his decision.

Foxwoods Interim CEO Rodney Butler recently told Hartford Business Journal that for every month the satellite casino in East Windsor is delayed, $10 million is added to MGM's bottom line.

The Interior Department didn't immediately respond to request for comment.

In a statement Thursday, MGM slammed the tribe's "meritless" attempt to "repackage the same unfounded arguments using different language."

"Even if the court grants this procedural request, we are confident that the court will reject those claims on the merits, regardless of how many different ways and times the Tribe tries to make the same argument," MGM said. "This is like a student asking for a do-over after failing a test."

This story has been updated to include comments from MGM

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