MGM Resorts International has been handed a major win after a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit brought by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and the state of Connecticut against the Trump administration. The tribe was attempting to force the Bureau of Indian Affairs to publish the tribe’s agreement with the state in the Federal Register, a step necessary for the tribe to break ground on its planned new casino in East Windsor, Connecticut.
In August of this year, MGM finally opened the doors on its $960 million MGM Springfield casino in nearby Massachusetts, just over the state line, and has been actively lobbying both the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Trump administration to ensure the tribe’s plans never get off the ground.
MGM views the tribe’s planed East Windsor casino, to be located just 12 miles away down Interstate 91 South from the MGM Springfield, and already approved by the state pending publication of the amendment in the Federal Register, as creating a competitive disadvantage set to draw off Springfield’s customers.
In the past, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, an arm of the executive branch of the federal government, has published the tribe’s agreement with the state in the Federal Register, but Trump administration officials have moved, or more accurately failed to move, to block the publication of a recent amendment that would allow the new casino plans to go forward.
Bureau agrees, secretary stalls
While Bureau of Indian Affairs officials had previously circulated a memo stating that the planned amendment to the agreement posed no problems, going so far as to state online in the Federal Register that the amendment would be published a few days later, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, a Trump appointee and loyalist who would need to sign off on the approval to publish the final plans, has simply refused to do so, without citing a reason.
This refusal, a clear stalling tactic designed to kill the tribe’s plans in favor of MGM, prompted the tribe to sue, together with the state of Connecticut who is eager for the plans go forward, in federal court.
In its defense of the tribe, the National Congress of American Indians, sent a letter to Secretary Zinke stating that “Under federal law, the Secretary’s publication of gaming compacts is not discretionary. The Secretary may disapprove a compact only if it violates federal law or the trust obligations of the United States. If the Secretary does not approve or disapprove a compact within 45 days, the compact shall be considered to have been approved. At that time, the Secretary is required by law to act: ‘shall publish in the Federal Register notice of any Tribal-State compact that is approved, or considered to have been approved.’”
Judge orders suit dismissed
In a 58-page ruling, Judge Rudolph Contreras, United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, an Obama era nominee, stated that the tribe had failed to show where in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act the Bureau of Indian Affairs is required to take action, either to accept or reject the amendment, by a certain deadline.
Judge Contreras then dismissed the case for “failure to state a claim”.
Ironically, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act does state a specific deadline of 45-days, as pointed out in the National Congress of American Indians letter, but only in cases of Class III gaming agreements.
The judge ruled that the current amendment to the existing compact was approved under a separate provision that does not impose a deadline to approve or reject the amendment, leaving the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation in de facto legal limbo.
“IGRA unambiguously does not apply the same approval timing requirements to secretarial procedures as it does to tribal-state compacts,” Contreras wrote in his opinion to dismiss.
While press reports have stated that the tribe is considering its next move, MGM told the local TV channel 22News that the state’s best way forward was to “pass legislation calling for competitive bids on any new commercial casino.” Adding that it is ready to “participate in that process” as it moves forward with plans for a casino in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
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