Full details of MGM Resorts’ legal challenge against federal approval of the joint venture between the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes for a third East Windsor casino have emerged in its extensive lawsuit filed last week. 

The firm argues that federal approval for the Tribal Winds development, which would create competition for its own Springfield casino, located less than 20 miles away, is unlawful and exceeds the Department of Interior’s statutory authority.

The lawsuit stated: “MGM challenges Interior’s unlawful approval of amendments that authorize a proposed commercial casino gaming facility in East Windsor, Connecticut. In particular, MGM challenges Interior’s unlawful approval of amendments to the compact between the Mohegan Tribe of Indians of Connecticut and the State of Connecticut, the secretarial procedures prescribed for the Mashantucket Pequot Indian Tribe, the Memorandum of Understanding between the Mashantucket Pequot Indian Tribe and the State of Connecticut, and, to the extent applicable, the Memorandum of Understanding between the Mohegan Tribe of Indians of Connecticut and the State of Connecticut. 

The amendments, contest MGM, have the stated purpose of facilitating off-reservation, commercial gaming operated by a joint venture wholly owned by Indian tribes. It noted: “These amendments therefore circumvent IGRA’s land-in-trust process, which governs off-reservation gaming, and allow Connecticut’s federally-recognized Indian tribes to leverage their duopoly over tribal gaming to obtain a monopoly over commercial gaming in Connecticut. 

“Interior’s approval decisions therefore confer a monopoly on commercial gaming to the joint venture. IGRA was never intended to allow such a scheme, and Interior lacks statutory authority to approve it. The amendments are not limited to an East Windsor casino: they facilitate commercial, off-reservation gaming by the tribal joint venture anywhere in Connecticut, and state legislators have recently proposed granting the joint venture an exclusive, no-bid license to operate a casino in Bridgeport, Connecticut.”

According to MGM, as such the amendments confer a statewide, perpetual competitive advantage on the joint venture. “Once again, IGRA does not contemplate or permit this type of unequal regime governing commercial casino development,” it stated. “Interior’s approval decisions are unexplained, unprecedented, and unlawful. Binding precedent dictates that ‘IGRA affords tools … to regulate gaming on Indian lands, and nowhere else’,” 

The assertion by MGM is that the agency, for the first time in its history, relied on IGRA to approve amendments that authorize a commercial casino on non-Indian land. “That step exceeded Interior’s statutory authority and therefore is unlawful,” it said. 

“Interior’s approval decisions also fail the ‘basic procedural requirement … that an agency must give adequate reasons for its decisions’.” 

MGM goes on to argue that the decisions do not explain how the amendments comply with IGRA’s “Indian lands” limitation or how Interior could approve the amendments despite having previously returned them because the applicants provided “insufficient information upon which to make a decision.” 

“Indeed,” said the lawsuit, “Interior’s decisions do not even acknowledge the fact that Interior previously returned the amendments. Moreover, Interior has conceded that it approved one of the amendments ‘without determining whether the … amendment is actually consistent with the statutory framework of IGRA’. MGM accordingly requests that the Court declare that Interior’s approval decisions are in excess of Interior’s statutory authority as well as arbitrary and capricious, and vacate the approval decisions.”