Eastern Conn. lawmakers upset tribe left out of gaming deal
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Members of the eastern Connecticut legislative delegation said Wednesday they “cannot accept” any gambling expansion deal reached between Gov. Ned Lamont and the Mohegan Tribe that doesn’t include the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation.
The bipartisan group sent a letter to the Democratic governor urging him and the state’s two federally recognized tribal nations to complete an agreement by Sunday. Lamont announced Tuesday his administration reached an agreement with the Mohegans that could eventually lead to legalized sports wagering and online gambling.
“We remain committed to the future and to the modernization of gaming in Connecticut,” the 17 legislators wrote. “However, we cannot accept this agreement as it is incomplete. It is necessary that the agreement include both the Mohegan Tribe and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation. Unless an agreement includes both tribes, the eastern Connecticut delegation simply cannot support it.”
Lamont’s chief of staff, Paul Mounds, issued a statement saying the administration agrees the Mashantucket Pequots, owners and operators of Foxwoods Resort Casino, “must be a party in any agreement.” He noted that expanded gambling would provide long-term stability for both tribes, who employ thousands of people in eastern Connecticut, but did not elaborate on the specifics of the disagreement.
“Governor Lamont is urging the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation to join this agreement immediately, and Eastern Connecticut legislators should do the same,” Mounds wrote.
Rodney Butler, chair of the Mashantucket Pequots, said Tuesday it was “extremely disrespectful” for Lamont to announce an agreement on gambling with just one tribe after the Mashantucket Pequots have been participating in the negotiations for months in good faith. Butler said his tribe remained open to continuing the discussions but has a financial issue with the deal, which he said equates to a “rounding error” for the state but is important for the tribe’s economic future.
“This is one that we’ve been sticking on throughout,” Butler said, without elaborating on the specifics of the disagreement.
“For us, we’re a small tribe who have our have our challenges and focus on sustainability of our nation in the long run,” he said. “And a half a million, a million dollars makes a huge difference in our ability to service our population with the critical programs and services that support ... the health of our elders, the education of our youth, our public safety department. And I can go on and on and on.”
In a statement released Wednesday, James Gessner Jr., the chair of the Mohegan Tribe, said his tribe came to agreement with Lamont “because we felt that if we didn’t find compromise now, Connecticut would risk missing out once again on making these changes, to the detriment of both the state and local municipal budgets, and also to the Mohegan Tribe and its tribal members.”
Gessner said the Mohegans “value, respect, and appreciate the role of our fellow sovereign tribal nation the Mashantucket Pequots” and they have to “go through their own process as a separate government.” He said the Mohegans recognize that all three governments ultimately need to agree on the deal, which would then require approvals from the General Assembly and the U.S. Department of Interior.