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No letup in back-and-forth between MGM, tribes

June 1, 2018 GMT

While the federal government took action Friday that passed for approval of the Mohegan Tribe’s amended gaming agreement with the state, it only stoked the long-running back-and-forth between MGM Resorts International and the tribal partnership that plans to develop an East Windsor casino.

The Department of the Interior published notice in the Federal Register that the Mohegans’ amendment “is considered to have been approved” because the department secretary took no action on it within 45 days of its submission.

The Mohegan amendment — and an amended version of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe’s gaming agreement with the state — was submitted last summer.

“Today’s Federal Register notice raises more questions than it answers,” MGM Resorts said in a statement issued Thursday night. “The notice provides no supporting reasoning and contradicts not only the Interior Department’s prior ruling, but also the clear limits on off-reservation gaming imposed by federal law. After consulting with our attorneys, we can find no legal justification for the Interior Department’s unprecedented action.”

MGM Resorts said it will file a Freedom of Information Act request “to uncover the process and inputs that led to (Friday’s) notice.”

MGM Resorts for years has opposed the tribes’ plan to build a third Connecticut casino on non-tribal land. MGM Resorts unsuccessfully sued the state over a 2015 law that authorized the tribes — and only the tribes — to solicit casino site proposals, instead calling for the state to establish a competitive-bidding process. And, after proposing a Bridgeport casino, MGM Resorts renewed the pitch in the legislative session that ended last month.

“Unlike the Interior Department, MGM’s position has not changed: We remain committed to a transparent process that would give all parties an equal opportunity to compete in Connecticut,” MGM Resorts said in its statement. “We believe our proposed world-class entertainment complex in Bridgeport is the best option for creating new jobs and revenue, and we will vigorously advocate for our legal rights — including by challenging Public Act 17-89′s unconstitutional no-bid scheme — if that is what it takes to prevail.”

The statement refers to the 2017 state law that authorized the tribes to develop the East Windsor casino provided the Interior Department approved the relevant amendments to each of the tribe’s gaming agreements with the state.

While the department has published no notice of the Mashantuckets’ amendment, those familiar with the process believe such notice will soon be forthcoming.

The Mashantuckets and Mohegans formed a partnership, MMCT Venture, to jointly pursue a third casino to protect their respective southeastern Connecticut casinos — Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun — from the impact of MGM’s nearly $1 billion resort casino in Springfield, Mass., which is due to open Aug. 24.

An MMCT spokesman took issue Friday with MGM Resorts’ claim to still be interested in Bridgeport after announcing this week that it was buying Empire City Casino in Yonkers, N.Y.

“For the last year, they’ve been making countless promises to Bridgeport all while they were actively working to buy the facility in Yonkers,” Andrew Doba, the spokesman, said. “Think about that. Think about how many times they testified at the legislature or held a press conference talking about what’s in the best interest of Connecticut, when they were working to buy a facility just a few miles from the border.”

“I am quite frankly baffled as to why anyone would take anything they say seriously,” Doba said. “MGM cares about one thing — their bottom line.”

b.hallenbeck@theday.com