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East Windsor, Connecticut casino receives approval from US Interior Dept.

It’s been a battle lasting more than a year, a lawsuit, and an investigation, but finally, the federal government took positive action on Friday. The U.S. Department of the Interior published a notice of approval in the Federal Register, endorsing changes to the Mohegan tribe’s gambling compact with Connecticut.

“The Secretary took no action on the Amendment to the compact between the Mohegan Tribe of Indians of Connecticut and the State of Connecticut within 45 days of its submission. Therefore, the Amendment is considered to have been approved, but only to the extent the Amendment is consistent with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA),” reads the draft language.

“We are pleased that the department is taking this step and we expect similar action on the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal amendments in the very near future,” Andrew Doba, a spokesman for MMCT the joint tribal venture, said in a report.

“Our goal has never changed. We want to do right by Connecticut and to preserve the strong relationship between our tribal nations and the state. Today’s decision is the latest step in our overall goal to preserve thousands of good paying jobs and millions in state tax revenue.”

The East Windsor casino is being jointly built by Connecticut’s two Native American tribes—Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes —and is poised to become their third casino in Connecticut. Former Showcase Cinemas building in East Windsor is the chosen site for the new casino, which was essentially in response to MGM Springfield opening a massive $960 million integrated casino resort near the state border.

While the casino industry has been on the rise in North America and with numerous Canadian online casinos rivaling traditional casinos, the new East Windsor casino is an attempt by Connecticut to ensure that vital gaming revenue isn’t flowing towards MGM Springfield alone.However, this action was dependent on receiving approval form the DOI and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, to ensure that the amended tribal gaming compacts are not a deviation from federal law.

The DOI failed to grant the required formal authorization, and the delay fueled doubts about the future of the satellite casino. However, state lawmakers and Governor Dannel P. Malloy, who had been fully supportive of the gaming expansion, received the much sought after federal approval.

In a DOI document filed with the Federal Register on June 1, John Tahsuda,Interior Department Principal Deputy of Indian Affairs, said the gaming compact amendment with the two tribes has effectively been approved.

However, MGM has contested in Connecticut’s plans to approve a third casino in court, by arguing that the state failed permit non-tribal competitors to hold a competitive bidding process to open a third casino in the state. The casino operator argued that if lawmakers wanted to expand gaming outside of Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, it should have permitted proposals from commercial companies and not only from the two tribes. The gaming giant held a casino pitch last year, introducing plans to build a $675 million integrated casino resort in Bridgeport—a project that would feature 2,000 slot machines, 160 table games, a 300-room hotel, a 700-seat theater, retail stores and restaurants; effectively creating 7,000 employment opportunities.

The proposal convinced some lawmakers in the state capital, and legislation was authorized to revoke the East Windsor license. However, the 2018 legislative session rejected the plan to revoke the license. According to a report by casino.org, MGM says it will remains committed to its plans in Bridgeport.

“Today’s Federal Register notice raises more questions than it answers. The notice provides no supporting reasoning and contradicts not only the Interior Department’s prior ruling, but also the clear limits on off-reservation gaming imposed by federal law.”

“After consulting with our attorneys, we can find no legal justification for the Interior Department’s unprecedented action,” MGM concluded.