MGM Sues Interior, Argues Tribes Seek to Leverage a ‘Monopoly Over Commercial Gaming in Connecticut’

MGM Resorts International has filed a lawsuit in federal court, arguing that the Interior and its Bureau of Indian Affairs have no authority to approve Connecticut-Tribal gaming compacts for off-reservation commercial casinos.

The suit, backed by Covington & Burling attorneys, calls the amendments to Connecticut’s compacts with the state’s two federally recognized Tribes “unlawful” and in violation of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).

The 33-page suit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Washington D.C. states:

“These amendments have the stated purpose of facilitating off-reservation, commercial gaming operated by a joint venture wholly owned by Indian tribes. These amendments therefore circumvent IGRA’s land-in-trust process, which governs off-reservation gaming, and allow Connecticut’s federally-recognized Indian tribes to leverage their duopoly over tribal gaming to obtain a monopoly over commercial gaming in Connecticut. Interior’s approval decisions therefore confer a monopoly on commercial gaming to the joint venture. IGRA was never intended to allow such a scheme, and Interior lacks statutory authority to approve it.”

In addition to the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe’s Foxwoods Resort Casino and the Mohegan Tribe’s Mohegan Sun — casinos located on their respective Tribal lands — the Tribes formed the joint venture MMCT to pursue a $300 million commercial casino in East Windsor, located off Tribal reservations. The East Windsor proposal received a belated approval from the U.S. Department of Interior in March. (In 2017, the Tribes believed they were near receiving necessary approvals to build the casino, but former Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, who resigned from his Interior post in December 2018, rejected advice from federal experts when he blocked MMCT from moving forward with the East Windsor casino.) 

RELATED: Zinke Under Investigation for Blocking Joint Tribal Casino in Connecticut

In May, MMCT wired $1 million to the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection toward state regulatory costs for their Tribal Winds Casino.

RELATED: MMCT Wired $1M to Connecticut for Tribal Winds Casino

MMCT also has its sights set on Bridgeport for a commercial casino — where state legislators have considered granting the joint venture an exclusive, no-bid license to operate a casino.

MGM has operated MGM Springfield, its casino in Massachusetts, just across the Connecticut border, since August 2018. East Windsor is just 12 miles from the MGM development. In addition to MGM’s vested interest in reducing nearby competition, MGM seeks to enter the Connecticut market. MGM’s lawsuit argues the Interior’s approvals of amendments to Tribal-state compacts “thus confer a statewide, perpetual competitive advantage on the joint venture” and bars an “open, competitive process that MGM believes would result in a better deal for the people of Connecticut.”

Gov. Ned. Lamont said the lawsuit is exactly what he hoped to avoid. “As I have consistently said, our state needs to reach a global gaming resolution that will avoid years and years or complex litigation,” Lamont said. “The gaming industry in Connecticut represents a significant portion of our economy, and as other states have demonstrated, there is room to grow it.”

Andrew Doba, a spokesman for MMCT, called the lawsuit frivolous, reported Courthouse News. “MGM pursues litigation because that’s what MGM does,” he said. “The choice for Connecticut policymakers can’t get any clearer. We can either let a Las Vegas company that generates not one dime of revenue for the state push us around or we can stand strong with the Tribes and an industry that’s generated more than $8 billion in tax revenue and currently employs 18,000 people.”