Connecticut’s Attorney General Skeptical of New Casino Legislation
Proposed amendments to Connecticut’s gaming laws regarding to gambling operations on non-tribal lands has been a hot topic of discussion among officials and operators in the region. The highest-profile subject on the matter being a planned tribal-operated casino on Connecticut’s border with Massachusetts, a project that would be located a few miles from MGM’s near $1 billion casino property just outside of Springfield, MA. Both operators have had lobbyists working feverishly over the last two years in the state’s capital preparing for the coming row.
With little progress made in either direction, Governor Dannel Malloy insisted that the state’s Attorney General George Jepsen weigh in on the debate with his opinion. Jepsen compiled his thoughts in an 8-page letter to the governor, detailing that the risks he foresaw were “impossible to quantify with precision,” and “are not insubstantial and cannot be mitigated with confidence.”
Clearly, the Attorney General was not optimistic of the resulting position for the state should the bill prove successful. According to Jepsen, the passage of such gambling legislation could put the state’s annual payment of $260 million derived from tribal slots operations in jeopardy. The state collects tax payments on revenue generated by the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority and Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation. Currently, the two bodies operate the Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort Casino, respectively.
Another key component of Jepsen’s concerns involved the state’s vulnerability to future cases relating to commerce and equal protection clauses of the Connecticut Constitution. In each such case, it would be the attorney general’s job to defend the state. He conceded that such suits were defensible. However, it would be impossible to guarantee a win for the state in any case.
The Attorney General detailed his position in the letter to Governor Dannel, stating, “We do believe that there are potentially meritorious defenses that we would be able to raise against these constitutional claims, including the special nature of state-tribal relationships permit special legislative treatment and require judicial deference.” adding, “However, the relative novelty of that legal issues such claims would represent makes it difficult to predict their outcome with confidence. We caution that the potential of equal protection or commerce clause challenges succeeding in this context is not at all insubstantial.”
A Two-Front Battle
Jepsen expressed particular concerns over the planned Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot partnered casino operation that will be in direct competition with MGM’s $950 million casino project. The two will be less than 20 miles apart from one another on either side of the Connecticut-Massachusetts border. Governor Malloy himself is a proponent of the planned casino, but is facing legal opposition from MGM Resorts International regarding the construction of the property.
MGM’s senior VP and legal counsel for the company, Uri Clinton, urged Connecticut and its tribal gaming operators to reconsider the move, citing potential losses of revenue reaching into the millions, prior to seeking out a legal solution to their cross-border woes. This loss of revenue was not even including the legal obstacles and vulnerabilities the state will have to overcome. The message is one that MGM insists it has been trying to convey over the last two years of development in the back and forth between MGM and the state of Connecticut.
Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority and Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation-formed coalition, dubbed the MMCT, is not backing down on their side of the fence either. Organization spokesman, Andrew Doba, thanked MGM’s board for their concerns and opinions on the matter, but reiterated the company’s inability to directly address the legislation in question. Doba cited the bill’s language directly, detailing any casino authorization as, “expressly contingent upon BIA approval of the Tribes’ compact amendments.” Not so tongue in cheek, Doba addressed the company and its board directly in his statements, asserting MGM, “need to stop talking out of both sides of their mouth. The AG’s testimony made it absolutely clear that the MGM bill would immediately jeopardize slot revenue and their insistence to the contrary should call their credibility into question for any policy makers.”
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