Zinke Under Investigation for Blocking Joint Tribal Casino in Connecticut

Following Zinke’s resignation, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) is calling for Interior approval of the joint Mohegan and Mashantucket casino in East Windsor, Connecticut.

At least one investigation among more than a dozen ethics probes into Ryan Zinke’s behavior as interior secretary involves tribal business interests. Zinke, who resigned Saturday, rejected advice from federal experts when he blocked the Mohegan and Mashantucket Tribes from moving forward with their casino in East Windsor, Connecticut.

Zinke was expected to approve the slot revenue-sharing agreements between the tribes and Connecticut. The tribes have been working for years to open a third casino in Connecticut—a jointly owned venture in East Windsor near the Massachusetts border. According to POLITICO, career experts in the Burea of Indian Affairs “were circulating what they labeled approval letters” before Zinke reversed course in the 11th hour.

The tribes had intended to break ground on their 100,000-square-foot facility in East Windsor this fall.

A rendering of the MMCT Venture LLC’s $300 million casino in East Windsor, Connecticut.

The Interior Department’s inspector general is examining the secretary’s decision to prevent the tribes from opening their casino in East Windsor, just 12 miles away from Springfield, Massachusetts, where MGM Resorts International opened a Las Vegas-style casino in late August 2018. The probe is ongoing.

When the Interior held up the tribes’ application last year, MGM commenced heavy lobbying. According to a POLITICO review of Zinke’s schedule, lobbying registrations and other documents, “Zinke and other senior department officials held numerous meetings and phone calls with MGM lobbyists and the company’s Republican supporters in Congress.”

The tribes called the Interior’s decision a “product of improper political influence” in a lawsuit.

A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit against Zinke, noting in a 58-page report that the Courts cannot compel the Interior to support the project — and Zinke didn’t want to, masslive.com reported.

Both officials with MMCT Venture LLC, the joint tribal business arm, and the Connecticut State Attorney General George Jepson expressed great disappointment at the Court’s ruling.

“The decision about the compact was legally, completely misguided and wrongheaded,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), reported the Hartford Courant. “It ought to be a new day for the new casino and this tribal initiative.”

Following Zinke’s forced resignation, Sen. Blumenthal has called on Zinke’s acting successor David Bernhardt, deputy secretary of the Interior, to swiftly approve changes to the state of Connecticut’s revenue-sharing compact with the tribal owners to pave the way for their estimated $300-$400 million casino.

“I think the Department of Interior has been derelict in failing to give approval to the tribes’ request,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn) previously said about the Interior’s delayed determination of the MMCT-state compact. (Flickr/Creative Commons,
Senate Democrats, https://tinyurl.com/y8r7cdl9, no changes made)

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