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Thursday, September 24, 2015

State Moves To Dismiss MGM Lawsuit Challenging New Tribal Casino Law

State Moves To Dismiss MGM Lawsuit Challenging New Tribal Casino Law

By Jon Lender

The state attorney general's office filed a motion in federal court Wednesday seeking to dismiss an August lawsuit filed by MGM Resorts, developer of a casino in Springfield, that challenges a new Connecticut law giving two Indian tribes the right to jointly develop a competing casino near the state line.

MGM claims the new law, passed by Connecticut legislators this year, violates the U.S. Constitution's equal protection clause and the spirit of federal gaming regulations by giving the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes the exclusive right to operate a third casino on private land in addition to their existing casinos on reservations in Uncasville and Ledyard.

But in the legal papers filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Hartford, the office of Attorney General George Jepsen said that the MGM lawsuit should be dismissed because the company hasn't been injured legally by the new Connecticut law. Thus, Jepsen's office said, MGM lacks legal "standing" to sue Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and other top state officials.

The new law – which establishes steps under which the two tribes would work cooperatively and negotiate with a municipality to open a casino on private land there – does not, by itself, authorize development and operation of such a casino, Assistant Attorney General Robert J. Deichert argued in his motion to dismiss. Once such an agreement was reached to build a casino in a Connecticut town or city, the General Assembly still would have to enact a new law to permit it outside a reservation, he said.

And so, he said, MGM has the option and legal right to embark on the same kind of preliminary efforts to negotiate to build a casino in a Connecticut town, pending legalization by the General Assembly, he argued.

The new Connecticut law "in no way excludes MGM from taking steps toward developing a Connecticut casino," he wrote. "To the contrary, MGM alleges that it has taken steps toward such a casino, and nothing in [the new law] precludes MGM from taking whatever additional steps it would like to take."

Deichert also attacked MGM's legal claim that it "is ready, willing and able to compete for an opportunity to develop a commercial casino gaming facility in Connecticut, but is excluded by [the new law] from competing for this opportunity."

The two tribes are now permitted by the state and federal governments to operate casinos on their reservations in southeastern Connecticut. Malloy and legislators announced when they authorized a new Indian casino this year that their sole purpose was to protect Connecticut jobs, specifically tribal casino employees, by giving northern Connecticut gamblers an alternative to traveling to Springfield.Deichert said that MGM is hampered by its own deal with the city of Springfield and state of Massachusetts – which prohibits MGM from building a casino within a 50-mile radius of Springfield. "Therefore, MGM is precluded from applying for a license for, managing, operating or having a financial interest in a casino located in most of Connecticut; the radius restriction covers all of Hartford, Tolland and Windham counties, and large portions of Litchfield, New Haven and Middlesex counties. It also covers much of New London county, which is home to the tribes' existing casinos."

Nevada-based MGM, which owns casino resorts throughout the country, claims that the Connecticut law discriminates on the basis of race or ethnicity against a spectrum of potential casino developers by limiting development rights to two federally recognized tribes. The law also violates the spirit of the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which limits tribal casinos to reservation land, the MGM lawsuit says.

"This special law prevents everyone else from competing or even from making an alternative proposal that could be of greater benefit to the state," MGM Resorts International President Bill Hornbuckle said in a statement in August.

Rep. Stephen D. Dargan, D-West Haven, co-chairman of the legislature's public safety committee, which oversees casinos, in August called the lawsuit "laughable."

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