MGM takes Connecticut casino quarrel to court... again

MGM Escalates Connecticut Casino Dispute To Federal Court

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The fight for a stake in the Connecticut casino market has led MGM to a federal courthouse in the nation’s capital.

The company filed suit against the US Department of the Interior (DOI) this week, challenging the recently amended compacts between the state and its two tribes.

The Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot hold co-exclusive rights to offer casino gambling in Connecticut, a privilege they’re keen on expanding. The DOI’s decision to approve a new, jointly developed casino in East Windsor sits at the center of MGM’s complaint.

The CT Post confirmed the suit on Wednesday, though the filing has not yet appeared in public records.

MGM says enough is enough

While the choice of venue is intriguing, the suit itself comes as no surprise to those who’ve watched the dispute develop in recent years. MGM has long fought for the right to open — or at least bid on — a major commercial casino in Connecticut.

The state has, so far, rebuffed those efforts. Citing the need to preserve exclusivity, policymakers in Connecticut are instead allowing the tribes to expand gambling beyond their native lands.

Apart from the existing approval in East Windsor, a new bill filed last week moves to allow yet another tribal property in Bridgeport. That proposal would additionally grant the tribes exclusive rights to offer online gambling and sports betting in the state.

MGM has finally had enough, asking the court to invalidate the East Windsor license and block the pending effort too. Along with its desire to participate in the discussion, MGM is also seeking to protect its new property in Springfield, Mass. It is situated across the border from East Windsor.

It’s not the first time Connecticut’s gambling industry has been litigated in court. Due to a lack of standing, a federal appellate judge in New York dismissed a similar challenge from MGM in 2017. The tribes, too, previously sued the DOI over the drawn-out approval process.

MGM has since moved to strengthen its legal position, proposing a large commercial project in Bridgeport. The company advocates for a competitive bidding process for any off-reservation casinos in the state.

MGM suit impacts online gambling in Connecticut

The suit is rooted in the fight over brick-and-mortar casinos, but the tensions are thwarting a greater effort to modernize gambling in Connecticut. The clairvoyant Gov. Ned Lamont recently expressed his disapproval for the Bridgeport proposal, concerned about just such a lawsuit from MGM.

“I’ve got to make sure that any deal we are able to come forward with does not lead us to another year upon year of litigation, and stop us dead in the tracks,” Lamont said.

The new casino, however, is not the primary purpose of the new bill.

“This is really about the authorization for sports betting and online betting,” MGM Executive Uri Clinton told the CT Post. And under the terms of the draft, authorization would be exclusive to the tribes.

The timing of MGM’s suit indicates a determination to intervene before these decisions become irreversible.

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Can’t we all get along?

Lamont wants to find a compromise, but there hasn’t been one to find to date.

The tribes protect their exclusivity above all, warning that they could justifiably terminate their obligations if Connecticut lawmakers so much as flirt with commercial gambling. Those revenue-sharing payments amount to hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

Capitalistic companies like MGM, meanwhile, are demanding consideration in non-tribal locations. The CT Lottery and a group of off-track betting operators have also fought for inclusion in any legislation that would expand gambling in the state.

Ultimately, it’ll be up to a judge in Washington, DC, to determine the future of casinos — and online gambling — in Connecticut.

- Eric is a reporter and writer covering regulated US gambling, sports betting, and DFS. He comes from a poker background, formerly on staff at PokerNews and the World Poker Tour.
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