Springfield vs. East Windsor: MGM is winning

It is stunning, really, that more than a month has gone by since a letter from the U.S. Department of the Interior threw into question whether the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan Indians can build the casino in East Windsor approved by the General Assembly, and Attorney General George Jepsen has yet to weigh in on the legal controversy.

Jepsen says he has no official opinion because no one with the authority to ask for one has, including the governor or legislative leaders.

Jepsen seems to be dodging a pressing issue of the day. Would the attorney general need someone to ask for an opinion whether to evacuate the building, if the fire alarms were sounding?

At the very least, if he really thinks he can't freelance, he should suggest to someone that they ask. It is his job to provide some clarity about the new casino law, which already has gone up on the rocks and appears to be headed to court.

Never mind an official opinion. How about some simple legal guidance?

And why has no one asked for that official opinion, since the prevailing interpretations of the Department of the Interior letter, from opposing sides of the issue, could not be more divergent.

A lot is at stake here, not the least of which are the thousands of casino jobs lawmakers said they were trying to preserve with the creation of an East Windsor casino.

Don't any of them wonder where it all stands, curious enough to ask the attorney general for some insight? After all, they failed to heed his advice suggesting they were heading into murky legal waters when they approved East Windsor in the first place.

Former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, now a hired legal gun for MGM, which is trying to stop the East Windsor plan, as it finishes its own casino in Springfield, Mass., wrote Jepsen on Sept. 17. He said in the letter that the Department of the Interior failed to approve an amendment to the tribes' gaming compact with the state that would ensure the tribes keep paying the state a share of reservation gambling, even if the East Windsor facility were to open.

Interior approval of the amendment to the gaming compact is specifically required in the law establishing the East Windsor casino.

"The letters explicitly state that Interior is acting to 'maintain the status quo,'" Salazar wrote. "It therefore necessarily follows that by 'maintaining the status quo,' Interior is withholding express or implicit approval."

The Pequots and Mohegans, on the other hand, backs against the wall, have taken the position that Interior, in not disapproving, approved the amendment. They base this on regulations governing the process.

The problem is that even a non-approval "approval" needs to be published in the Federal Register by early next week. Interior, which said in its letter that nothing needs to be done, is unlikely to publish anything, since that would be doing something.

What will the tribes do if the department doesn't? Sue? That will drag on for years. Ask the General Assembly to approve East Windsor without the guarantee that payments from reservation slots will continue? That's a nonstarter.

Meanwhile, construction on MGM's fabulous new destination resort in Springfield grinds on, with an opening expected before next fall.

To add insult to injury for the tribes, Connecticut is preparing to launch its new commuter rail service, which will connect New Haven not just to Hartford but also Springfield, with stops along the way through central Connecticut.

They might as well christen it the casino train: All aboard to take you and your gambling dollars to Massachusetts.

Steve Wynn's $2.4 billion casino on a 13-acre site just outside Boston, a building with a 13-acre footprint, is on track to open in 2019.

And then there is the new attempt by Pennsylvania to vastly expand gambling. A plan to put gambling in truck stops, airports and in 10 more mini-casinos just passed the legislature and is awaiting a decision from the governor.

The challenge to keep the coins dropping into slots at eastern Connecticut's two rural Indian casinos is getting more onerous by the week.

This is the opinion of David Collins.



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