Connecticut Senators Ask Ryan Zinke for Casino Support

Richard Blumenthal Chris Murphy Connecticut Casino

Murphy (left) and Blumenthal (right) appealed to Ryan Zinke’s conservative principles in calling for approval for the third casino.

Connecticut’s US senators, Sen. Chris Murphy (D) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D), are trying to help Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Casino secure a casino license for the East Windsor casino. Blumenthal and Murphy wrote a letter to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke (R), to convince his department to approve the third Connecticut casino.

The senators emphasized the desire of the people of Connecticut to authorize a third casino. Such an argument is designed to appeal to Ryan Zinke’s longstanding political philosophy, which is state’s rights over federal intervention.

The US Indian Affairs Bureau, which has to approve the East Windsor casino, is a division of the US Department of the Interior. MGM Resorts currently is challenging the right of the Mohegan Tribe and Mashantucket Pequot (Foxwoods) Tribe to build the satellite casino in East Windsor, a suburb of Hartford.

MGM Bridgeport Casino

MGM Resorts currently is building a $950 million integrated casino-resort in Springfield, Massachusetts, which is about 30 miles away from Hartford, Connecticut. The Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes believe the MGM Springfield will draw gamblers from the Hartford area, so they convinced Connecticut lawmakers to approve a satellite casino in the area, to act as a firewall against Connecticut gamblers leaving the state.

This summer, MGM Resorts’s CEO Jim Murren unveiled a plan to build a $675 million privately funded casino in the harbor of Bridgeport, Connecticut. MGM Resorts claims the Connecticut state legislature conducted an unconstitutional casino licensing process, because its lawmakers did not consider alternative casino developers. MGM Resorts’ lawsuit against Connecticut was tossed earlier this fall, but the legal dispute appears to have caused hesitation on the part of the Indian Bureau in approving the East Windsor casino.

Blumenthal and Murphy Letter to Zinke

The joint letter by Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy to Secretary Zinke said, “The genesis of the compact amendments is the desire of the state of Connecticut to authorize an additional casino operation within Connecticut borders. This is a decision based on the state’s review of its gaming policies, the impact on the people of Connecticut and the state budget.”

For its part, MGM Resorts claims that the lack of approval of the satellite casino represents a denial on the part of the Indian Affairs Bureau. In a press release, MGM noted Connecticut State Attorney General George Jepsen’s prior warning that Mohegan Tribe, Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, and State of Connecticut should not proceed with the casino plan without overt federal consent, because such a project could pose “grave potential risks to the state of Connecticut.”

Uri Clinton on AG Jepsen’s Casino Statement

Uri Clinton, MGM Resorts International’s SVP and legal counsel, when asked about the senators’ letter, stated, “(This) letter raises no new issues and provides no new information that would change the Department of the Interior’s decision not to approve the tribes’ submissions. It also does not address the risks to the state of proceeding with (tribes’) proposed casino without Interior approval that have been emphasized by Attorney General Jepsen’s office.”

Given the fact Senator Chris Murphy and Senator Richard Blumenthal are Democrats, one might assume that the Republican Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, might not be inclined to intervene on behalf of the Connecticut tribes. At the same time, MGM Resorts’ Jim Murren was a vocal supporter of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 US presidential election, so the issue involves opponents of the GOP administration on both sides.

Richard Blumenthal v. Donald Trump

Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal each have been outspoken criticis of President Donald Trump. In August 2017, Blumenthal and Trump had a Twitter battle, after Blumental said in a TV interview, “Empaneling the grand jury shows that Bob Mueller is pursuing this potential wrongdoing by the Russians, the attack on our democracy, seriously and diligently — and there is no minimizing or underestimating that attack by the Russians.”

President Trump replied, “Interesting to watch Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut talking about hoax Russian collusion when he was a phony Vietnam con artist!”

Chris Murphy v. Donald Trump

Chris Murphy and Donald Trump had a calmer exchange on Twitter a few weeks later, after Murphy criticized the president for his self-centered tweets as Tropical Storm Harvey struck the Houston area. Murphy tweeted, “At this exact moment people are dying in the worst natural disaster of his Presidency & instead of leading he’s attacking Democrats.”

Donald Trump replied by point out Chris Murphy’s opposition to the GOP’s tax reform bill, referring to the Connecticut senator as ‘CM’. President Trump tweeted, “I will also be going to a wonderful state, Missouri, that I won by a lot in ’16. Dem C.M. is opposed to big tax cuts. Republican will win S!”

Whether past political battles would have any role in decision making over a tribal casino in the Hartford metropolitan area is another matter. Before being appointed as the 52nd Secretary of the US Interior, Ryan Zinke served as Montana’s at-large representative in the US House of Representatives. Before that, he was a member of Montana’s State Senate.

In those roles, Zinke was an outspoken advocate of limited federal authority from Washington DC, so one would think he would support a state’s right to build a third casino, if its people deemed it necessary.