- Associated Press - Thursday, April 6, 2017

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Leaders of Connecticut’s two federally recognized tribes met Thursday with legislative leaders, trying to assure them that authorizing the state’s first casino on non-tribal land will not risk the hundreds of millions of dollars the tribes now pay the state.

The visit to the state Capitol by the chairmen of the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes coincided with the release of a letter to state officials. They guaranteed they’ll honor their existing revenue sharing agreement with the state and will propose amendments to that arrangement which preserve the revenue stream if the legislation okaying the casino project clears the General Assembly.

Under the current agreement, Connecticut receives 25 percent of the slot machine revenues generated at Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort Casino, which was nearly $268 million in 2015. The tribes also are promising Connecticut 25 percent of revenues from the slots and table games at the new satellite casino, which is being proposed to compete with the $950 million casino being built by MGM Resorts International in nearby Springfield, Massachusetts.

Mohegan Tribal Chairman Kevin Brown told reporters that he believes there’s little chance the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs will shoot down the revised arrangement - something that’s been a concern to some lawmakers.

“It’s our experience with the Bureau of Indian Affairs that the whole reason that that bureau exists is to oversee the forward movement of Native American tribes across the country and our ability to sustain our economic fortune,” Brown said. “So, it’s slim to none are the chances that they would rule against what we’re trying to do.”

MGM officials insisted the tribes were not saying anything new on Thursday. MGM said the state is still risking the chance of the Bureau of Indian Affairs rejecting the tribes’ request to amend the revenue-sharing arrangement and jeopardizing the money Connecticut now receives.

House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, a Democrat from Berlin who was among those who met with the leaders, said the tribes’ guarantee is helpful, but he still gives the legislation a “50-50 chance” of coming up for a vote in this year’s legislative session, which adjourns June 7. He said previously on Wednesday that a recent letter from state Attorney General George Jepsen outlining his concerns with the bill authorizing the new casino put the legislation “in a more difficult spot.”

Jepsen wrote that the risks associated with authorizing Connecticut’s first casino on non-reservation land, including those to the revenue-sharing agreement, “are not insubstantial” and there was no guarantee those risks could be reduced.

Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Thursday the bill’s chance could improve if Jepsen can ultimately say the legislation would “safely secure the state’s position,” adding how he doesn’t intend to put the funding in jeopardy.

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