Mashantuckets, Mohegans say they're not pursuing marijuana

What’s sports betting got to do with marijuana?

That’s a question some were left to ponder Tuesday after state Rep. Joe Verrengia, D-West Hartford, appeared to suggest a connection between the two during a legislative forum on sports betting.

Verrengia, co-chairman of the Public Safety and Security Committee, asked Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan officials if their tribes, eager to introduce sports betting online and at their respective casinos, also were interested in getting into the marijuana business, an endeavor the state is considering in connection with the legalization of recreational marijuana. 

Neither tribe is planning to pursue marijuana, the officials said.

"It’s a major conflict for the same business entity to have sports betting and marijuana,” Verrengia said Wednesday. “I think they should be kept separate and apart from a regulatory standpoint, and that goes for any commercial or tribal entity.”

The tribes have formed a partnership to develop a commercial casino on nontribal land in East Windsor.

Verrengia said a sports-betting bill the committee is drafting is likely to contain language prohibiting an entity from holding licenses to operate both sports betting and a marijuana business.

Rodney Butler, the Mashantucket chairman, said Verrengia’s question “came out of left field.”

Butler said the Mashantuckets, who are licensed to grow industrial hemp, don’t expect to lobby for or against marijuana legislation but wouldn’t want to be shut out of any opportunities they may want to consider in the future.

As federally recognized tribes, the Mashantuckets and the Mohegans are considered sovereign nations, meaning activities on their reservations are subject to federal law. In 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice said tribes could grow and sell marijuana on their lands provided they adhered to the same regulations that apply in states that have legalized the drug.

Tribes in Oregon, Washington and other states have entered into tribal-state agreements relating to marijuana cultivation and sales.

The Mohegans, who have not pursued hemp cultivation, said they have no interest in the marijuana business.

“The Mohegan Tribe through Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment, is now a multinational company that operates in many jurisdictions,” said Chuck Bunnell, the tribe's chief of staff. “Some of those jurisdictions make it difficult if not impossible for us to be involved in the marijuana industry and retain our gaming licenses. A few are so strict as to prevent us from having investments or partners involved."

“As such, we will not be involved if Connecticut does in fact authorize it, as it will remain illegal federally,” he said.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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