The Department of the Interior (DOI) rejected two Native American tribes’ proposed casino off reservation land despite a push for approval by federal experts, Politico reports.
The Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes applied to build a casino on non-reservation land in Connecticut under a jointly run private company, a situation with little legal precedence. Interior staffers appeared to support the tribal casino, circulating letters of approval just two days before the department scrapped the plan.
An MGM resort 12 miles away is scheduled to open a casino in September, and the company lobbied heavily against the approval of the tribes’ casino, leading some to suspect that Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke sided with the gambling giant over career professionals, according to Politico.
Before the DOI had rejected the tribes’ request, MGM had filed a lawsuit to kill the proposal for violating “both the state and United States constitutions,” GM Senior VP Uri Clinton said, according to The Connecticut Mirror. The case was dismissed after a rehearing request to a federal appeals court.
“We are grateful there’s an IG investigation into this issue because since last fall, none of the department’s actions have passed the smell test,” MMCT Venture, the company set up by the tribes to run the casino, spokesman Andrew Doba said.
The tribes sued the DOI for not delivering the rejection within the 45-day timeframe mandated under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. DOI wants the case dismissed because the Mashantucket Pequots’ part of the request is not protected under the act because the tribe and state of Connecticut failed to negotiate a gaming compact decades ago, The Connecticut Mirror reports.
The Mashantucket Pequots have since began operating a casino on tribal land approved under an alternate process, “secretarial procedures.”
“This is an unusual situation, and we’re kind of pushing the bounds on IGRA,” University of North Dakota School of Law (UNDSL) Dean Kathryn Rand said, according to Politico. Rand is co-director of UNDSL’s Institute for the Study of Tribal Gaming Law and Policy.