After years of delays which some have said were purposeful, the Bureau of Indian Affairs of the United States Department of the Interior, which is the authority that governs and regulates land based casinos on Indian land, finally approved a casino to belong to the Mohegan Tribe of Native Americans and which would be located in East Windsor, Connecticut.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs did not so much approve the casino as announce that the deal that the tribe had worked out for joint ownership with the government of Connecticut was going ahead.
Complicated Business, Complicated
The complexity of the partnerships that were and are to take effect when the casino is built and open for business make keeping track of the several different bonus codes at online casinos easy as pie.
The Mohegan Tribe had made an agreement with the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe for joint ownership. The State of Connecticut had agreed on a 25% tax on all slots revenues. The Bureau of Indian affairs was asked by Connecticut to approve the venture since the casino would be owned by the two Native American tribes but was to be built on no-Indian land.
Then the government started stalling.
Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, decided simply to do nothing with regard to the planned approval. He disregarded expert advice that had told him to approve the casino and decided instead to do nothing.
Earlier this year, the left wing political site Politico released a document that insinuated that Secretary Zinke had been heavily lobbied and influenced by MGM Resorts International to disapprove of the East Windsor casino. The document that Politico released was so heavily redacted that it was impossible to know for sure why Secretary Zinke had chosen to do nothing, to neither approve nor disapprove the casino.
It has long been known that MGM Resorts International has been a staunch opponent of the casino as it would offer stiff competition to MGM Resorts which is now in the final stages of a $1 billion casino resort in Springfield, Massachusetts, close enough to East Winsor as to be seriously affected by the new casino.
The Huffington Post reported that Deputy Secretary of the Interior, David Bernhardt, met with an Interior Secretary appointed by George W. Bush, Gale Norton, now a lobbyist for MGM. The meeting was about MGM’s opposition to the Indian-run casino in MGM’s “backyard”.
Freedom of Information
The heavily redacted document that Politico received and released came as the result of a request Politico made pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act that came about after the Watergate scandal of the 1970’s. The Department of the Interior was obligated by the Freedom of Information Act to release any documents pursuant to the East Windsor casino but had the right and, indeed, obligation to redact the document to protect vital information or the identity of individuals.
The document indicates that the department had already put into process the approval of the East Windsor casino in the weeks before the fateful meeting between past and present Interior Department officials.
So speculation was rife that former Secretary Norton had influenced present Secretary Zinke into inaction.
It took only two days for Secretary Zinke’s office to circulate a memo stating that the department would neither approve nor disapprove the casino project.
The State of Connecticut requested the Inspector General of the Department of the Interior to investigate the secretary’s inaction. The Mohegan Tribe sued the secretary for failing and indeed refusing to uphold his sworn obligation to apply the law in an impartial manner. The tribe’s main contention was that the inaction resulted in no decision at all, preventing the tribe from moving on to a different project if the secretary had disapproved or to go forward with the East Windsor project if he had approved.
Winning by Default
The secretary was given 45 days to either approve or disapprove the East Windsor project. He did neither and the 45 day period expired. The Interior Department released a statement that the project in East Windsor could now go forward as by default the secretary had simply allowed the deadline come and go.
Clearly, in the short term MGM Resorts International has won a battle in the looming war with East Windsor. The MGM casino in Springfield is scheduled to open in late August, long before the East Windsor casino will be able to open.
By opening much sooner than its biggest local rival, MGM Resorts, Springfield will have the upper hand in attracting new casino gamblers to its facility.
In the long run, the Native American tribes will win because they will be able to open a casino on non-Indian land and become a powerful competitor with MGM Resorts International.
The State of Connecticut will win in the end as it will collect much-needed tax revenue from East Windsor. Senator Richard Blumenthal spoke out against the Trump administration’s Interior Department because by delaying the construction of the East Windsor casino, it had cost the state untold tax revenue.
In the end, the state might make up the shortfall by attracting Connecticut residents who could be dissuaded from crossing into Massachusetts to gamble. The government of Connecticut could make the case that by gambling in state, they would be helping the state raise money for worthy state causes instead of forcing the state to raise taxes.
If a cross border gambling trade war breaks out between Connecticut and Massachusetts, it could cause both states to lose. It is far too early to determine if state leaders are willing to turn approved casino gambling into a political cause celebre.