Interior says Mashantuckets shouldn't be allowed to amend suit

Attorneys for the U.S. Department of the Interior argue in a new court filing that a federal judge should deny the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe’s bid to keep litigating over the department’s failure to grant an approval that would enable the East Windsor casino project to move forward.

The filing late Wednesday afternoon came in response to the claim of the tribe and the state of Connecticut that Interior “buckled under undue political pressure” applied by Nevada lawmakers and the White House on behalf of MGM Resorts International.

MGM Resorts, which opened a nearly $1 billion resort casino in Springfield, Mass., in August, has sought to block the East Windsor project.

The Mashantucket and Mohegan tribes, partners in the project, sued Interior nearly a year ago, seeking to compel the agency to approve their individual gaming amendments with the state. The Mohegans withdrew from the suit after Interior recognized their amendment in June.

After U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras granted Interior’s motion to dismiss the suit’s remaining claims, the Mashantuckets and the state moved to amend the suit, alleging political influence had “tainted the administrative process.”

In Wednesday’s filing, Interior’s lawyers argue the motion to amend the suit “should be denied because of undue delay and futility." They say the Mashantuckets and the state could have amended their claim well ahead of Contreras’s September ruling and that they “should not now be allowed another bite at the apple.”

The filing says the tribe and the state have not alleged sufficient facts to support their claim that undue political influence affected Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s consideration of the gaming amendments.

“Plaintiffs assert that various meetings took place between the Nevada delegation to Congress and decision-makers at Interior, and between the White House deputy chief of staff and the Secretary, but they do not allege any details about these meetings,” the lawyers wrote. “... In particular, there are no allegations that the Nevada delegation somehow threatened retaliation against the Secretary or otherwise put forth inappropriate considerations.”

The Mashantuckets and the state continue to claim that Interior had no reason to treat the Mashantuckets’ gaming amendment any differently than it did the Mohegans’ amendment.

Interior maintains that regulations that require it to act on such amendments only apply in the case of gaming agreements that are considered "tribal-state compacts." While the Mohegans’ agreement is a tribal-state compact, reached through negotiations between the parties, the Mashantuckets’ agreement was “prescribed” by the Interior secretary after negotiations failed to produce an agreement.

The legislation that authorized the Mashantuckets and the Mohegans to develop an East Windsor casino made the authorization contingent on Interior approval of the amended gaming agreements.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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