East Windsor casino hold up at the federal level

EAST WINDSOR – It’s been months since Connecticut approved a new casino in East Windsor and the tribes behind the state’s third casino said the holdup is at the federal level.

A spokesperson for the MMCT Venture, made up of the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes, said the Department of the Interior failed to follow the law.

The department was supposed to approve or disapprove the casino plans in 45 days and that time has passed. MMCT is arguing the Interior Department is refusing to sign off on the plan.

“There’s no doubt that interior should have immediately stamped this with approval,” Senator Chris Murphy said.

Senator Murphy said the day the decision was due to come out he made an emergency phone call to Secretary Ryan Zinke, along with Senator Blumenthal and Congressman Courtney. He said they were told they could not talk to him.

“The Nevada delegation got an in person meeting and they have nothing to do with the Connecticut tribes application other than they represent MGM.”

MGM is currently building a casino in Springfield, Mass.

A Politico article released Thursday brought into question whether Zinke is delaying approval because of MGM. Political revealed it obtained documents that show federal officials held meetings and phone calls with MGM lobbyists and republican supporters. According to Politico, it is unknown if the tribes’ casino project was discussed.

“Interior is in charge of making sure when tribes sign agreements with a state that it's in their best interest,” Senator Murphy said. “Not in the best interest of a casino on the other side of the country.”

In November, Governor Malloy announced a lawsuit with the tribes against the Department of the Interior and Secretary Zinke for failing to act on compact changes needed before the new casino could be built.

The lawsuit states that because the federal agency did not act in 45 days of their submission, as required, the amendments should now be deemed as having been approved.

According to Politico, the department of the interior said it would be premature to either approve or reject the plans. MGM sought to join suit on the opposing side.

An MMCT spokesperson released a statement:

"Every time MGM holds a press conference or attends a hearing and says they want what's in the best interest of Connecticut, know that the record tells a very different story.”

FOX61 also reached out to MGM and a spokesperson whosaid the company wants a fair shake in Connecticut:

“Connecticut is best served by an open, transparent, competitive process for Connecticut`s first commercial casino. Economic studies indicate that Connecticut would create more jobs and see greater economic benefits from a casino in Bridgeport.”

The interior department has not yet responded to our request for comment.

Senator Blumenthal also reacted Thursday:

“The Politico piece raises serious concerns that campaign donations and lobbying money may have illegally influenced Interior’s decision making. Interior must authoritatively approve the amended compact as in the clear best interest of the tribes. Interior’s unusual actions and these serious allegations must be investigated to restore trust and credibility to this now tainted process.”