Connecticut officials call for probe of Interior Department
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut officials on Monday called for an investigation of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s failure to act on revenue sharing agreements between the state and two Native American tribes that are needed for the tribes to build and operate a new casino.
U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, and U.S. Reps. John Larson and Joe Courtney, all Democrats, made the request in a letter to the Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General.
The Interior Department on Monday referred questions to the Department of Justice, which did not return a message seeking comment Monday.
The two federally recognized tribes, the Mohegans and Mashantucket Pequots, separately operate two of the largest casinos in the world in southeastern Connecticut — Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort Casino. They are planning a jointly-run casino in East Windsor in northern Connecticut to compete with a new casino being built by MGM Resorts that is scheduled to open in Springfield, Massachusetts, in September.
Connecticut officials and the tribes last year agreed to changes to their existing gaming compacts covering Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods that would allow the new casino. The agreements needed approval from the Interior Department, but the agency did not act on them within 45 days as legally required, state officials said.
“This decision raises serious questions as to whether the Department of the Interior is properly carrying out its longstanding legal trust responsibilities regarding Native American Tribes,” the two senators and two congressmen wrote in the letter.
They also cited a report by Politico earlier this month that said the Interior Department’s refusal to act on the agreements came after agency officials, including Secretary Ryan Zinke, met with MGM lobbyists and congressional Republicans who support MGM. Politico reported that an Interior Department spokesman did not respond to requests for comment about the report.
The state and the tribes also are suing the Interior Department in federal court, seeking a ruling that the agreements should be considered approved because the agency did not act on them.