Interior seeks dismissal of MGM suit over tribes' gaming amendments

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The U.S. Department of the Interior has asked a federal judge to dismiss MGM International’s claims that the department broke the law when it approved gaming amendments related to the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes’ plan to develop an East Windsor casino.

In a motion filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., the department counters MGM’s contention that the approvals violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the federal law that governs casino gaming on tribal lands.

The East Windsor casino, pursued by a joint venture of the casino-owning tribes, would be built on nontribal land and would operate as a commercial rather than tribal enterprise.

“Plaintiffs seek to recast these amendments as approval of the commercial gaming facility in order to argue that Interior failed to comply with inapplicable legal requirements,” the department argues in its motion. “... (T)he Amendments merely confirm that the operation of a state-sanctioned commercial facility by a state-charted tribal joint venture does not violate the exclusivity provisions of the Tribes’ MOUs with the State.”

The tribes’ memorandums of understanding specify that the tribes, in return for the exclusive right to provide casino gaming in Connecticut, share their casinos’ slot-machine revenues with the state.

“Interior’s role with respect to gaming extends to tribal gaming under IGRA, not state-sanctioned commercial gaming conducted under state or other federal laws, even if that gaming happens to involve Indian tribes,” the department argues.

MGM International, the Las Vegas-based casino operator that opened MGM Springfield in western Massachusetts a year ago, has long sought to keep the tribes from opening Connecticut’s third casino in nearby East Windsor. Despite falling well short of pre-opening revenue projections, MGM Springfield has had an impact on business at the tribes’ respective southeastern Connecticut casinos, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun.

“We stand firmly behind the arguments made in our lawsuit,” MGM International said in a statement Wednesday.

The suit, filed in August, came on the heels of a legislative proposal calling for the tribes to invest in a Bridgeport casino project as part of a deal that also would grant them the right to conduct internet gambling and sports wagering at their casinos and via mobile applications. The tribes backed the bill and at the same time reaffirmed their commitment to the East Windsor project.

The tribes did not comment on Interior’s motion.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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