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State Senator

Cathy Osten

Representing Columbia, Franklin, Hebron, Lebanon, Ledyard, Lisbon, Marlborough, Montville, Norwich & Sprague

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Citing New Developments in Zinke Investigation, Senator Osten Renews Call to Pass East Windsor Casino Bill

On the heels of a new development in the federal government’s investigation of disgraced former Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke, state Senator Cathy Osten (D-Sprague) today once again called for the General Assembly to pass Senate Bill 11, her bill which seeks to clarify the federal Department of the Interior’s role in approving minor changes to the existing Tribal-State Compact between the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes and the State of Connecticut.

Those changes that are needed in order for the tribes to operate a new casino in East Windsor.

A public hearing on Sen. Osten’s Senate Bill 11—which has 22 bipartisan co-sponsors—will be held before the Public Safety and Security Committee at 10 a.m. tomorrow, Tuesday, February 26, 2019, in Room 1-E of the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.

“The stench surrounding Ryan Zinke’s role in this tribal delay is overwhelming, and the fact that a grand jury is now hearing new evidence about Zinke’s role in this is even more reason to pass Senate Bill 11 and get on with the business of creating jobs and growing Connecticut’s economy,” said Sen. Osten, who is vice-chair of the Public Safety Committee. “We can’t let one man, who is now being investigated by federal authorities, stand in the way of what was green-lighted a year and a half ago by another Interior Department official. It’s outrageous.”

Citing unnamed sources, The Washington Post reported this past weekend that federal prosecutors have presented evidence to a grand jury regarding whether Zinke made false claims to investigators about his decision to deny a petition by the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes to operate the East Windsor casino.

The Post reported that the Inspector General office of the Interior Department referred the matter to the Department of Justice “after its investigators became concerned that Zinke had lied to them about how he came to his decision on the casino”; Zinke resigned his post in December.

Senate Bill 11 is designed to secure quicker approval of the agreement between the state and the tribes to jointly operate the new East Windsor casino, which is being built to compete with the new MGM-owned casino in Springfield, Mass. Legislators say the federal government’s foot-dragging in approving a minor amendment to the Tribal-State Compact is negatively impeding business development, job retention and growth.

The terms of original 1994 Tribal-State Compact were effective only “upon publication of notice of approval of this Compact by the Secretary of the Interior of the United States in the Federal Register,” according to federal law. That has already occurred.

But that 1994 Tribal-State Compact also stated that “the terms and conditions of this Compact shall not be modified, amended or otherwise altered except by written agreement of both parties” and with the afore-mentioned approval by the Interior Department.

In September 2017, U.S. Interior Department Acting Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Michael S. Black wrote the tribes and former Governor Dannel Malloy to say that Interior Department action on the amended Tribal-State Compact to operate the East Windsor casino “is unnecessary at this time” because “the tribes have entered an agreement with the state whereby they have agreed that the exclusivity provisions” of the original 1994 Tribal-State Compact “will not be breached by this arrangement.”

In May 2018, the Interior Department approved changes to the state’s compact with the Mohegans.

But the Interior Department has still not approved the changes to the Pequots’ compact: approval of both changes is necessary to begin operation of the East Windsor casino.

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