The tribal chairmen of Connecticut’s two federally recognized Native American tribes that operate the two casinos greeted the legislative chairs of the committee that oversees all forms of gambling with word that their newly named “Tribal Winds” joint venture casino project for East Windsor is shovel ready.
They added that they’ve already spent $15 million on the project and that it will employ thousands of Connecticut residents from construction to opening.
The only snag remaining is that, even though it was approved by the legislature and signed by then-Governor Malloy 19 months ago, the law was contingent upon approval from the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs.
“Interior was on board with that for two plus years and then at the last minute, under political influence, which we have a lawsuit regarding that they changed their opinion,” said Rodney Butler, Chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot tribe.
The tribal chairmen told the committee that they believe they will eventually get that federal approval, but that the East Windsor project could move forward if the legislature simply removes the need for federal approval.
Butler added, “We’ve always felt that you could do both routes.”
And the tribes have a strong ally on the committee whose district includes both casinos.
Sen. Cathy Osten (D-Baltic) said, “I don’t think the state of Connecticut should wait. As far as I’m concerned, the state of Connecticut doesn’t need the BIA’s approval on this.”
Osten and others believe this is just like the amendment the tribes made with the state over Keno games. But others on the committee say it’s too risky, like committee co-chair Rep. Joe Verrengia (D-West Hartford).
He said, “If we were to do that, we would put the state at a greater financial risk. A risk that I’m not willing to take.”
Tuesday;s discussion was restricted to the East Windsor project.
There is also a bill calling for a competitive process allowing others like MGM to compete for a possible new casino.
That’s what MGM is advocating. That hearing is yet to be scheduled.
MGM issued a statement on Tuesday, which read:
“It is time now for Connecticut to move beyond the back-and-forth of the past few years and establish an open, competitive bidding process for a commercial casino. The vast majority of Connecticut residents support that approach. That is the most effective way for policy makers to determine what is in the state’s best interest – for jobs, economic development and revenue to the state and local communities. What’s best for Connecticut should be driving the decision-making.”