Federal Approval for Connecticut Tribes for $400m Casino

A new casino in Connecticit has gained legal approval.
Connecticut has two tribal casinos and a joint venture by the two tribes to open a new casino has now won approval after a legal battle.

30-second summary:

  • Connecticut currently has two tribal casinos
  • The two tribes are working together to create a $400m casino in East Windsor
  • There has been a lengthy legal battle
  • They finally got approval to go ahead with this project in March

History of gambling in Connecticut

Many different types of gambling are currently legal in Connecticut. There are two tribal casinos in operation in the state – the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Ledyard and the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville. Foxwoods has been in operation since 1986, with the Mohegan Sun starting its operations in 1996. They were officially federally recognized in 1992.

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act allows for these tribal facilities, which are operated by the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes. These casinos currently have exclusive rights to offer slot machines in the state. In return, the tribes pay 25% tax on revenues deriving from these machines. In the most recent financial year, the casinos earned revenues of more than $13bn from slot machines.

Connecticut also offers horse and dog racing betting, with 16 different parlors dotted around the state. Sportech looks after these parlors, in which the two tribes also operate. This has been legal since 1971. However, the racing industry is slowing down and a number of tracks have closed in recent years.

Non-profits are able to operate certain types of casino games and the state lottery has been running since 1972 – it offers a combination of draw and scratch games. Revenues each year for the state lottery are in the region of $1bn.

There is also a strong push in the state for the legalization of sports betting. Four sports betting bills are under review in the legislature at the moment.

Approval of tribes new $400m casino

The Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes have made efforts for a number of years to open another casino – this time in East Windsor. While a new tribal casino would generate a lot of new jobs and stimulate the local economy, there has been controversy regarding the proposed facilities.

The issue at hand is that the proposed site is not on tribal land. Therefore, some parties believe that this casino should not be allowable, including MGM. The large casino operator previously filed a lawsuit against the project. It says it is not constitutional to allow a casino on non-tribal land without having a competitive bidding process.

The two tribes’ joint venture is known as MMCT. They have been fighting at federal level to start developing the Tribal Winds Casino. They have now gotten approval and they can continue with their plans.

Previously, they got the green light to start development in 2017. However, their request did not meet with approval from the secretary of the department of the interior at the time. MMCT then sued the secretary Ryan Zinke, as well as President Trump.

Their suit claimed that donors to the Republican Party’s campaign were representatives of MGM Resorts, and that the state of Nevada was putting pressure on Zinke and Trump not to give approval to the new casino. Zinke resigned in December 2018 following an ethics investigation.

The casino would be a competitor to the MGM Springfield casino in nearby Massachusetts. The lawsuit was revived in February 2019 by the federal appeals court.

Details of this new casino

A change in the Native American tribal gaming laws made this new casino a possibility. The US Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs gave its approval to the change.

The Tribal Winds Casino will be between 100,000 square feet and 188,000 square feet in size. It will have more than 1,800 slot machines, 50 gaming tables and 10 poker tables. The project will likely cost around $400m. The development will take 18-24 months to complete and they are nearly ready to begin breaking ground.

The construction process will create about 2,000 jobs, and there will be about 2,000 permanent jobs once it opens. An additional 1,000 jobs will be generated indirectly through the casino working with local small business vendors.

The chairman for the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation said: “Today is a great day for the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and the state of Connecticut, especially given our 400-year history together.

“I applaud the actions of the department of the interior and extend my sincerest gratitude to assistant secretary Tara Sweeney and the office of the solicitor at the interior department for their assistance in resolving this matter.”