Lauren Schneiderman/Hartford Courant via AP
Kevin Brown, left, chairman of the Mohegan Tribal Council and Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council, signed an historic agreement on Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015, at the state Capitol.

MGM, Connecticut Square Off Over Bill Allowing Third Tribal Casino

ICTMN Staff
11/4/15

The Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes have teamed up on a bid to open a satellite casino in the state. Unified under the joint gaming enterprise MM4CT Venture, the tribes formalized their new alliance at a signing ceremony at the State Capitol on September 10. They currently run Connecticut's two casinos, Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods, in the southeastern part of the state.

While the state's tribes have forged a new partnership, two previous political allies are at oods. Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Attorney General of Connecticut George Jepsen disagree about the state's new bill permitting the Mohegan Tribe and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation to open a third casino in Connecticut.

Special Act 15-7, "An Act Concerning Gaming", signed into law on June 19, 2015, opens doors to grant a license for the establishment of commercial casinos exclusively to the state's two federally recognized tribes. Holder charges this goes against the state's longstanding policy of encouraging competition in state contracting.

"While we have great respect for Mr. Holder and his many accomplishments, we disagree with the legal conclusions he asserts on behalf of his client, MGM," Jaclyn Falkowski, a spokeswoman for Jepsen, said in a statement.

Following his six-year tenure as AG, in July 2015, Holder rejoined law firm Covington & Burling LLP, which is representing MGM Resorts International in a lawsuit filed August 4, 2015, against Connecticut state officials. It alleges that the bill signed into law by Connecticut Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is unconstitutional for its preferential treatment toward tribes, reported lasvegassun.com.

MGM called the law "invalid, null, and void in its entirety" for failing to offer competitive bidding and fair contracting.

"Although Connecticut has the right — indeed, the responsibility — to promote economic growth, to seek to ameliorate the historical inequities visited upon Native Americans, and to create new jobs for its residents, the laws it enacts to achieve those goals must comply with the United States Constitution and Connecticut’s legal commitment to fair competition in state contracting,” Holder wrote in his letter dated October 26 to Jepsen. “Special Act 15-7 fails both of these tests."

Passage of the bill initiated the process for potential authorization of Connecticut's third casino—its first casino on non-tribal land. Following its approval, the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes began talks with municipalities to establish a potential casino and issued requests for proposal (RFPs). November 6 is the deadline for proposals; the tribes anticipate selecting one by December 15, reported providencejournal.com.

A confirming vote from the Connecticut General Assembly is required before a casino may be built. The two-step process for casino approval is the result of Jensen's voiced concerns over the original wording of the bill.

The impetus behind the bill was to maintain market share against competition coming to Massachusetts, namely the $800 million resort MGM Springfield. MGM Resorts International broke ground on its Las Vegas-style facility on March 24, 2015, reported wbur.org. The resort is scheduled to open in 2018.

"First, (MGM) dismissed the proposed new facility as irrelevant. Now they’re fighting it tooth and nail," said Andrew Doba, a spokesman for the joint tribal entity MM4CT Venture. "One thing is clear — with every step they pursue in this process, MGM is admitting that our plan to save Connecticut jobs and revenue is going to work. As far as Mr. Holder’s letter is concerned, it appears that he’s representing a client like any other lawyer would do."

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