Two tribes with competing casinos have set aside their differences to team up on a new gaming property, but the future of the project may be out of their hands. The Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes, which operate the Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods casinos in Connecticut, are ready to break ground on a joint venture, Tribal Winds Casino in East Windsor, but have run into a stumbling block in the form of the federal government.
D.C. Politics Getting in the Way
When the casino was approved by the Connecticut legislature in 2017, but the U.S. Department of the Interior must approve any changes to a tribe’s gambling compact with the state. To this point, the DOI has not done so. To make matters more interesting, the former Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, was arguably the most corrupt person in the Trump administration, which is saying something. And of all the things Zinke is being investigated for, his handling of the tribes’ request is one of them.
A year ago, POLITICO reported that Zinke’s inaction on the tribes’ request may have been for political reasons:
The Interior Department’s refusal to sign off on the tribes’ plans for a third Connecticut casino came after Zinke and other senior department officials held numerous meetings and phone calls with MGM lobbyists and the company’s Republican supporters in Congress, according to a POLITICO review of Zinke’s schedule, lobbying registrations and other documents. The documents don’t indicate whether they discussed the tribes’ casino project.
“I think the Department of Interior has been derelict in failing to give approval,” Senator Richard Blumenthal told POLITICO. “We asked for a meeting, but they were unresponsive. They never even responded.”
And so the tribes wait.
“We’re talking about the next phase of this development, to save jobs, bring more revenue to Connecticut,” Rodney Butler, tribal council chairman of the Mashantucket Pequots, told the Hartford Courant. “The project is shovel ready. We’d be there were it not for the roadblocks in Washington, D.C.”
Fighting off Competition
Both Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun are located in southern Connecticut, separated by only about ten miles. The reason they are teaming up for Tribal Winds is to combat the presence of MGM Springfield, which opened last summer in southern Massachusetts, just minutes from Connecticut’s northern border.
Naturally, MGM Springfield will syphon off potential Foxwoods/Mohegan Sun customers who now have an easier drive to the new casino versus the Connecticut venues. Thus, the tribes want to erect a gaming venue up there to try to get back/retain as much of those gambling dollars as possible. The state also has incentive to give the venture its blessing so that gamblers don’t spend their money in Massachusetts. One estimate puts the tax revenue figure at $75 million per year.
Of course, jobs are a thing, too. It is expected that there would be 2,000 people working at Tribal Winds, as well as 1,000 indirect jobs because of the existence of the casino and another 2,000 jobs during its construction.