Other gaming tribes support Mashantuckets' review request in tax ruling

Five Indian tribes, including Florida's Seminoles, are backing the Mashantucket Pequots' request that a federal appellate court revisit a ruling that the Mashantuckets owe the town of Ledyard property taxes on slot machines they lease from nontribal entities.

The five tribes filed a "friends-of-the-court" brief in the case late last month, joining the Mashantuckets' petition for a "rehearing" by the full 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. A three-judge panel of the court ruled in July, reversing a U.S. District Court decision in the Mashantuckets' favor.

The reversal's precedent-setting nature was expected to cause a stir throughout Indian Country, particularly among casino-owning tribes.

Joining the Seminoles, who own several Indian casinos as well as the casino operator Hard Rock International, were the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and the Coquille Indian Tribe. The Confederated Tribes - the Cayuse, Umatilla and Walla Walla - own the Wildhorse Resort & Casino in Pendleton, Ore.; the Coquilles operate The Mill Casino in North Bend, Ore.

"Non-Indians own property and engage in activities on their reservations which, prior to this decision, were exempt from state taxation. (The parties to the brief) will bear the economic burden of the state taxes that will be imposed under this decision," an attorney for the tribes wrote.

John Rodolico, the Ledyard mayor, said Monday the appellate court's ruling has enabled the town to collect "in excess of $100,000" in unpaid back taxes assessed on non-tribally owned slot machines at the Mashantuckets' Foxwoods Resort Casino. Earlier, he had estimated the town was owed more than $500,000 in back taxes and will be owed as much as $300,000 a year going forward.

Rodolico said based on his reading of the July decision and the fact that it was unanimous, he was confident the ruling will stand.

The five tribes argue in their brief that the appellate court erred in finding that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act's ban on state taxation of Indian gaming does not extend to slot machines.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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