Connecticut Tribes’ Plan for Tribal Winds Resort Casino Up in the Air

  • Two tribes in Connecticut have gambling facilities in Connecticut
  • The Mohegan ribe and the Mashantucket Pequot tribes set up a joint venture to build a resort casino
  • There has been legal action on this issue for many years, but the tribes recently got federal approval for their project
  • Connecticut Governor Lamont says it will likely be the next legislative session before state legislation is passed allowing the casino resort to go ahead
Connecticut's two tribes have a joint venture to develop the Tribal Winds resort casino
Connecticut’s two tribes have a joint venture to develop the Tribal Winds resort casino but are being stymied by legal action

Tribal gambling in Connecticut

Connecticut currently has two tribal casinos – the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville and the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Ledyard. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act is the piece of legislation that allows for these facilities.

The Mashantucket Pequot tribe operates the Foxwoods, which opened in 1986. The Mohegan Sun, operated by the Mohegan tribe, opened in 1996 after it got federal recognition in 1992.

The two casinos have the exclusive right to operate slot machines in Connecticut. In exchange for this exclusivity, the tribes pay 25% tax on all slot machine revenues. This is big business, as the casinos generated almost $13bn in slot machine revenue in the most recent financial year on record.

Potential casino resort

The two tribes have been looking for the green light to build a new casino resort in East Windsor, Connecticut for some time. The joint venture is called MMCT and they have been working hard to see the project come to fruition.

The Tribal Winds Casino would create a lot of new jobs, as well as put more money into the local economy. The main stumbling block is that the proposed site is not tribal land. Numerous parties, including MGM Resorts, have been blocking progress as a result. The objecting parties claim it is unconstitutional not to have a competitive bidding process if the casino is not on tribal land.

After MMCT got initial approval in 2017 to begin development, they were stymied by numerous instances of legal action that stopped them from going ahead. This led to MMCT suing President Donald Trump and the Secretary of the Department of the Interior, Ryan Zinke.

The tribes claimed that some donors to the Republican Party campaign were representing MGM Resorts and that they were under pressure to not give the project approval.

Zinke handed in his resignation in December 2018 after an ethics investigation. The main reason for MGM’s resistance is that it operates the MGM Springfield in Massachusetts, which is close to the proposed tribal casino resort site.

Federal approval

Following a change in the federal tribal laws for gaming, the casino project is back on the table.

This casino plans to have a casino floor of more than 100,000 square feet. It will have about 1,800 gaming machines, as well as 50 gaming tables and 10 poker tables. In total, the development cost will be around $400m, and construction will likely take up to two years.

The construction phase will create about 2,000 jobs, with the same amount of permanent jobs being created once the casino opens.

Governor’s comments

Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont is in support of this project. However, he believes the tribes will have to wait for some time before they can go ahead. Lamont thinks it will likely be the next legislative session before legislation passes allowing for the start of the casino project. There is still some opposition on a state level since the issue gained federal approval.

Talking about this progress, Lamont said: “We’ve had a very strong bond and contract going back well over a generation. I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that contract stays intact. We are working together going forward.”