MGM Resorts sues Interior Department over decision to allow Connecticut tribes to operate an East Windsor casino

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The battle over expanded gambling in Connecticut took a new turn Wednesday when MGM Resorts sued the U.S. Interior Department, accusing it of approving changes to the state’s compact with the Mohegans and Mashantucket Pequots that allow the tribes to operate, without competition, a casino in East Windsor.

MGM has operated a casino in Springfield since August 2018 and is trying to block an additional casino in Connecticut. The prospect of a tribal-operated casino in Bridgeport also spurred MGM: It cited state legislation filed last week favoring a tribal casino in Bridgeport, which is near the sizable and lucrative New York City and Long Island markets. Connecticut lawmakers strike deal for Bridgeport casino and sports betting, but Gov. Ned Lamont raps plan and withholds support »

Changes by Interior to the compact between Connecticut and the tribes "facilitate commercial, off-reservation gaming by the tribal joint venture anywhere in Connecticut and state legislators have recently proposed granting the joint venture an exclusive, no-bid license to operate a casino in Bridgeport, Connecticut,” MGM said.

“The amendments thus confer a statewide, perpetual competitive advantage on the joint venture,” MGM said. [Business] City of Hartford scores another victory in court as judge clears way for development around Dunkin’ Donuts Park »

MGM said the Interior Department violates federal law and bars MGM from “competing on equal terms in Connecticut.” The East Windsor site would not be an off-reservation tribal casino, but instead would be the state’s first commercial casino but run jointly by the state’s two federally recognized tribes, MGM said.

“Interior’s approval decisions establish an unlawful state-conferred monopoly over commercial gaming rights in Connecticut,” MGM said.

Its approval also prevents an open and competitive approach that MGM said would result in a better deal for Connecticut residents. The compact between the state and tribes give exclusive rights to casino operations in return for a 25 percent share of slot revenue, which has yielded $8 billion since the early 1990s.

“An open process would allow the state to evaluate competing proposals and choose the operator that offers the best investment opportunity, creates the most new jobs and economic expansion, and maximizes revenue to the state.,” MGM said.

MGM asked the court to reverse Interior’s decision and declare that Interior acted beyond its authority. [Business] Environmental advocates denounce planned natural gas plant in Killingly »

A spokeswoman said the Department of Interior will not comment on litigation.

Gov. Ned Lamont said he is seeking a solution that avoids lawsuits challenging legislation.

“As I have consistently said, our state needs to reach a global gaming resolution that will avoid years and years of complex litigation,” he said in a statement. “It has always been my intention to develop a comprehensive gaming platform that not only strengthened Connecticut’s gaming industry, but protected it from litigation.”

Andrew Doba, a spokesman for the joint venture between the Mohegans and Mashantucket Pequots, said, “MGM pursues litigation because that’s what MGM does.”

“The choice for Connecticut policymakers can’t get any clearer," he said. "We can either let a Las Vegas company that generates not one dime of revenue for the state push us around or we can stand strong with the tribes and an industry that’s generated more than $8 billion in tax revenue and currently employs 18,000 people.” [Business] Environmental advocates denounce planned natural gas plant in Killingly »

State Sen. Cathy Osten, an ally of the tribes, called MGM a “school yard bully" and said Connecticut gets “top dollar” from the two tribes.

“It’s time for us to move on and take care of Connecticut,” said Osten, a Sprague Democrat.

The Interior Department approved the change in the state’s compact in March. The MGM lawsuit says a recent proposal to grant a joint venture of the Mohegans, who operate the Mohegan Sun, and Mashantucket Pequots, who run Foxwoods Resort Casino, a Bridgeport casino license “doubles down on Interior’s errors rather than learning from them and moving Connecticut forward,” MGM said.

“Like the East Windsor proposal, the new Bridgeport bill relies on the Interior Department’s unlawful approval decisions and could not function without them,” MGM said.

MGM opened its Springfield casino in Springfield last year, posing a threat to Connecticut’s two casinos. The legislature and the two tribes agreed on a third casino for the state in East Windsor to try and compete for traffic headed to Springfield. [Business] The Stop & Shop strike in April cost the supermarket chain $345 million, parent company says »

The joint tribal operation, MMCT Venture, is investing up to $300 million for the East Windsor site.

Allies in the legislature of the two tribes last week filed legislation calling for a $100 million investment by the Mohegans and Mashantucket Pequots for a casino in Bridgeport. The deal brought together Bridgeport’s delegation and eastern Connecticut lawmakers who previously were divided on the issue.

In addition to backing a casino in Bridgeport, the legislation expands gambling by authorizing the Connecticut Lottery to offer online and app-based lottery ticket sales and to offer iKeno. The tribes also would conduct sports betting at the casinos, via mobile apps and internet gambling.

More legal action could be in the offing. The chief executive officer of Sportech, the operator of off-track betting in Connecticut, said exclusive authority to the Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods casinos for sports wagering could invite a lawsuit.

https://www.courant.com/business/hc-biz-mgm-lawsuit-20190807-dzov27ltufg63ell2l4df2lih4-story.html