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MMCT officials launch renewed push for “Tribal Winds” casino in East Windsor

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HARTFORD — The Native American tribes who operate Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods briefed lawmakers on their stalled plan to build a casino on non-tribal land in East Windsor Tuesday.

It’s a renewed push. The project has been stuck in regulatory limbo. The tribal chairmen of MMCT — the joint venture between the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes want the state to pass a law to bypass the federal approval they need to start construction.

Kevin Brown, the Chairman of the Mohegan Tribal Nation said, “We’re shovel ready. We are ready to create jobs and revenue for the state of Connecticut and their shouldn’t be anything to hold us back.”

But...there is.

For three years, Connecticut’s defense wall to the MGM Springfield casino has been the joint tribal casino off I-91 in East Windsor. Now it has a name — “Tribal Winds.” But it does not have federal approval from the Department of the Interior. “Heavy lobbying by MGM in the last 48 hours prior to those approvals is what halted it,” said Brown.

The tribes have spent $14-million so far. The old Showcase Cinema building— demolished. All state and local permits have been granted. But skeptics wonder if the project will ever see opening day.

Rodney Butler is the Chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe. “We didn’t just sit on our hands and do nothing for two years while they were building. We both reinvested in our physical plant, in our program and in our employees,” he said.

So what gets the shovels in the ground? Two paths. Gain federal approval — or get the state to pass a law to get around it. “Obviously we prefer the first approach of the interior simply approving the amendment. But again, the state has that authority. We’ve done that with KENO,” said Butler.

Tuesday, the tribes addressed the general assembly’s Public Safety and Security Committee chaired by State Senator Dennis Bradley from Bridgeport. “I don’t know if that will still stand. We are looking at those things to make sure that whatever was done in the past is transparent and open and creates the progress that we want,” said Sen. Bradley.

Bridgeport is the other piece of the pie. With MGM eyeing the waterfront — pushing the state to open the bidding process beyond the exclusive tribal compact. The tribes say not so fast. “If in fact the idea is that perhaps two or three is right, our simple message is that we are the development partners who can make that happen,” said Chairman Brown.

Department of the Interior said due to pending litigation they can’t comment. MGM issued a statement. “It is time now for Connecticut to move beyond the back-and-forth of the past few years and establish an open, competitive bidding process for a commercial casino.”

The tribes say that once they are allowed to begin construction, they are to opening within 18-24 months. They say the East Windsor casino will bring in $70 million dollars and 5,000 jobs.

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