Richard Blumenthal Calls for Interior Department Casino Approval

Richard Blumenthal East Windsor Casino

Sen. Blumenthal called on Zinke’s successor to follow traditional protocol with state-tribal gaming compacts.

U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn) called for the US Department of the Interior to quickly approve the East Windsor casino plan near Hartford, which is a joint venture of Foxwoods Casino and Mohegan Sun. Senator Blumenthal made his announcement in response to Ryan Zinke’s abrupt resignation or firing as the US Interior Secretary.

In response to the news, Blumenthal said, “The decision about about the compact was legally, completely misguided and wrongheaded. It ought to be a new day for the new casino and this tribal initiative.”

Whether that will happen is another matter. Ryan Zinke will be replaced at least temporarily by David Bernhardt, who has served as Deputy Secretary of the Interior. Many who criticized Zinke’s time in the department have speculated Mr. Bernhardt was the mastermind of the operation.

Jamie Williams, head of the Wilderness Society, said David Bernhardt is likely to continue the “drill everywhere” agenda. Whether that means Bernhardt can be expected to maintain the department’s ambivalence to tribal casino operators is another matter.

Ryan Zinke vs. Connecticut Tribes

For one thing, Zinke’s stance against the East Windsor casino is one of the reasons the departing cabinet member was investigated by his department’s own Inspector General. Richard Blumenthal joined with three other Connecticut lawmakers — including US Senator Chris Murphy and US Reps. Joe Courtney and John Larson — to formally request an investigation into Zinke’s decision to reject the East Windsor plan.

If suspicious behavior against the East Windsor casino helped bring down his predecessor, then Jamie Williams might be reluctant to take the same stance on the iissue.

The four US congressmen claimed Ryan Zinke met with lobbyists for MGM Resorts, the Las Vegas casino company which owns the MGM Springfield, a casino only 30 miles drive from the proposed East Windsor casino. The lawmakers allege that the meeting is a sign of favoritism against the tribal casinos.

Rejection of Revenue-Sharing Plan

Approval came down to requests by Connecticut and the tribes to change the state’s slot machine revenue-sharing agreements with the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes. In times past, such requests received a rubber-stamp approval, since both sides of the gaming compact arrived at the agreement willingly.

Zinke’s Indian Affairs Bureau would not give an answer for nearly a year, despite there being a 90-limit on the amount of time the bureau has to respond. When a lawsuit forced their hand, Zinke’s people rejected the agreement.

Politico reported that Interior Department “career staffers were circulating what they labeled ‘approval letters’ just 48 hours before their political bosses reversed course.” It seems the plan was to approve the East Windsor plan, but something changed the mind of Zinke and the higher-ups at the last minute.

Cathy Osten’s Gaming Compact Bill

State Sen. Cathy Osten (D-Sprague) introduced a bill which would circumvent the need for federal approval for changes to the gaming compact between the tribes and Connecticut. According to the Hartford Courant, Osten’s bill has bipartisan support from Republicans and Democrats.

When asked whether Connecticut still needed such a bill after Zinke’s fall from power, Cathy Osten said the federal government’s ability to harm Connecticut tribes should be eliminated either way. She said, “Connecticut must move forward to protect its interests.”

Osten added, “I did say, and continue to say, the Interior Secretary was the main divider on this issue after he called MGM and the legislators from Nevada.”