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Good times for bad guys at Connecticut's casinos

By David Collins

Publication: The Day

Published March 26. 2014 4:00AM

While trying to get a handle this week on how many state police troopers are left at Connecticut's casinos, I called and asked the police press office for a number.

That is information police won't discuss, I was told, for "tactical reasons."

Of course, I now well understand why they don't want to say, for tactical reasons, how many troopers are left in the State Police Casino Unit. Because the answer is none. Zip. Nada.

When you call the casino unit's office, in fact, you get an answering machine.

This is a stunning retreat by state law enforcement at places that, well, frankly, have some appeal for people who might want to break the law. Police made close to 400 arrests at the two casinos in 2012.

The casino unit, which has been responsible for putting boots on the ground inside the casinos since they opened their doors, had 21 troopers, six sergeants and one lieutenant in November 2012, according to numbers I got this week from the Malloy administration, after asking nicely and repeatedly.

As recently as last September, 26 people were assigned to the casino unit.

Now, there are none assigned to it. The personnel from the unit were transferred to the Bureau of Criminal Investigations, which can, of course, respond to the casinos, where the state still has jurisdiction. Police can also respond from Troop E in Montville, which covers other parts of eastern Connecticut.

But there are no police officers of any kind regularly assigned inside two of the largest casinos in the world who can arrest non-Indians and book them for a crime.

And to think people have been worried about a decline in the number of police on the streets of New London.

This lack of traditional law enforcement at Connecticut casinos wasn't supposed to happen this way.

The Malloy administration went along with a plan in which the two casino tribes would stop paying the state for routine casino law enforcement but instead would improve, train and certify their own police departments, so they could take over.

The legislature, with assurances from the administration, went along with the plan and passed a bill that would enable the tribal police to make arrests on non-Indians that could be prosecuted in Connecticut courts.

A lot of money is at play here.

The tribes have been reimbursing the state for police coverage under the terms of the court-imposed compacts that give them a right to conduct gambling in the first place.

As recently as the 2011 fiscal year, tribal reimbursements to the state for police coverage totaled $7.3 million - $3.9 million from the Mashantuckets and $3.4 million from the Mohegans.

The negotiated total dropped to $4.7 million in 2012, to $4.2 million in 2013 and $1.2 million for fiscal year 2014. The governor's revised budget proposal for the fiscal year 2015, beginning in July, has no reimbursement.

The state police retreated from the casinos without a signed deal with the Mohegans and Mashantuckets that would allow tribal police to arrest and book non-Indian wrongdoers.

Mike Lawlor, the former lawmaker who is now undersecretary for criminal justice policy and planning, the governor's point person on the issue, said this week they expect the agreements to be signed "very soon." Until that time, tribal police can detain individuals and call state police to come to book them.

Tribal and administration officials also said in mid-February that agreements will be finalized soon.

It seems the Malloy administration is good at making deals with the tribes but not so good at finalizing them.

Even as the General Assembly debates whether to repeal Keno gambling, which was passed at the close of last year's session, the Malloy administration has yet to ink a deal with the tribes, giving them a share, even though the game was supposed to begin rolling out by now.

I am not surprised or worried about the administration's failure so far to make a deal with the tribes over Keno, which compromises their exclusive rights to nonlottery gaming.

But withdrawing state police without appropriate backup is, well, practically criminal.

This is the opinion of David Collins

d.collins@theday.com

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