Eastern Pequots call state's third-casino law 'unconstitutional'

North Stonington — The Eastern Pequot Tribe on Thursday decried Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s signing in June of legislation granting the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes the exclusive right to build the state’s third casino on non-reservation land in East Windsor.

In a statement provided to The Day, the Easterns say Malloy’s decision to sign Public Act 17-89 is “cloaked in hypocrisy and is unconstitutional.”

The statement affirms legal arguments raised by other third-casino opponents — MGM Resorts International and the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation — who have claimed the legislation grants the Mashantuckets and the Mohegans “an unfair monopoly on commercial gaming."

Katherine Sebastian Dring, chairwoman of the Eastern Pequot Tribal Council, said the Easterns, who lack federal recognition, are considering “our legal strategy” and have not had discussions with MGM or the Schaghticokes, both of whom filed federal lawsuits over the 2015 state law that enabled the Mashantuckets and the Mohegans to form a joint venture and seek casino site proposals from municipalities.

The Mashantuckets and the Mohegans, respective owners of Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun, are pursuing the third Connecticut casino as a hedge against the competitive impact of MGM Springfield, a nearly $1 billion resort casino being built in Massachusetts. The tribes are awaiting U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs approval of revised casino agreements with the state.

“The U.S. Constitution clearly affords every citizen equal protection under the law,” Sebastian Dring said. “We cannot be denied privileges, and that is the basis for what we’re doing — we are seeking justice.”

While the Easterns currently have no plans to pursue commercial gaming, the tribe wants to preserve its options, Sebastian Dring said.

“We should not be excluded from any opportunities going forward,” she said. “Whether we file suit next month or years from now, we have to do this for future generations.”

While the Schaghticokes withdrew their lawsuit over the 2015 law, MGM Resorts has continued to press its case. In June, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s dismissal of MGM’s claims, prompting MGM to file for a rehearing on the matter. The request is pending.

MGM also has threatened legal action over Public Act 17-89.

“As we have been saying all along, we believe this new law violates both the state and United States constitutions, and we will continue to argue our case vigorously in court,” Uri Clinton, an MGM Resorts senior vice president and legal counsel, said in a statement Thursday. “We remain very interested in doing business in Connecticut, and believe the state would benefit tremendously from the hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue and the thousands of jobs that would be created if we get the opportunity to invest here."

The Easterns’ statement notes that Connecticut officials have long opposed attempts by state-recognized tribes, including the Easterns and the Schaghticokes, to secure federal recognition, status that enables a tribe to develop a federally regulated casino on reservation land. The Mashantuckets and the Mohegans enjoy such status.

In 2002, the Easterns seemed to have federal recognition within their grasp when the Bureau of Indian Affairs acknowledged two factions — the Eastern Pequot Indians and the Paucatuck Eastern Pequot Indians — as one group, the Historical Eastern Pequot Tribe. The state and the towns of Ledyard, North Stonington and Preston joined a challenge of the decision, prompting the Interior Board of Indian Appeals to review it.

The Interior Department announced in October 2005 that it declined to recognize the Eastern Pequots and the Paucatuck Eastern Pequots, ruling that both factions failed to meet two of seven mandatory requirements for acknowledgment.

The consolidated tribe has sought to keep its hopes of gaining federal recognition alive, most recently petitioning the BIA last year to have its status as a Previously Federally Acknowledged Tribe reaffirmed. The tribe is still awaiting a final decision, Sebastian Dring said.

Federally recognized tribes, in addition to operating casinos, can receive funding for such things as educational services, health care and housing.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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