Connecticut Does Not Need A Third Casino

March 3, 2004

Connecticut does not need a third casino, and especially does not need to be forced into a position of struggling to resolve the significant financial, social and transportation problems that opening a third casino would bring.

That is why we, like so many of our constituents, strongly support the state’s plan to appeal the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs’ formal recognition of the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation. Frankly, the BIA decision is puzzling at best, and grievously troubling at worst. Just two years ago, the BIA issued a preliminary decision to deny recognition because of lengthy gaps in evidence pertaining to the tribe’s continuous existence. Earlier this year, the BIA pointed to new evidence submitted by the tribe, and the state’s longstanding recognition of the tribe, as reasons for granting federal recognition. And, following the example it set earlier in granting federal recognition to the North Stonington-based Eastern Pequots, the BIA decision regarding the Schaghticokes combines two rival factions into a single tribe.

We believe it safe to say that Connecticut officials, at least in modern times, recognized the Schaghticokes in order to acknowledge and honor tribal members’ efforts to preserve their culture – not to lay the groundwork for opening a new casino. But, sadly, when it comes to protecting our state against the proliferation of casinos, Connecticut legislators have learned that even the most benign actions can have unintended consequences. Fortunately, the General Assembly has taken steps that we believe will help us to protect our state against ill-considered decisions by the BIA.

For example, we strongly – though reluctantly – supported the bill passed by the General Assembly last year to ban Las Vegas Nights. For years, charitable groups hosted these fun events as fundraisers. Back when we passed the original Las Vegas Nights law, no one could have predicted that the existence of these state-sanctioned events would provide Connecticut’s first federally recognized tribes with the legal basis for opening the state’s first casinos. We believe that repealing Connecticut’s Las Vegas Nights law provides our state with a strong legal defense against any attempts on the part of federally recognized tribes to open new casinos. And it is possible that the General Assembly will consider further legislative proposals to strengthen Connecticut’s efforts to halt casino proliferation.

Meanwhile, it is important for both state and federal officials to highlight the glaring problems with the BIA recognition process. By now, it is no secret to anyone that tribes seeking federal recognition are heavily bankrolled by those who believe that casinos are a good financial investment. State and municipal governments simply do not have the same resources. In other words, this is a very high stakes game and the deck is stacked against state and local governments.

Fortunately, members of our Congressional delegation share our concern about what federal recognition of a tribe can mean to Connecticut’s cities and towns. Earlier this month, all five Connecticut congressmen asked for a hearing before the Committee on Government Reform to “investigate the influence of outside interests, especially wealthy gaming interests, in the process for federal recognition of Native American tribes.”

Also, Connecticut Congressman Christopher Shays and Congressman Frank Wolf, of Virginia, have introduced the Tribal and Local Community Relationship Improvement Act, which would require state legislatures’ approval of new casinos. As Congressman Shays said of the proposed federal legislation, ” federal tribal recognition should not mean the end of local participation in decisions about casino expansion – – especially because those decisions have enormous impacts on the communities in which casinos are built. The bottom line is, citizens should have the final word on casino expansion in their communities.”

And, Connecticut Congresswoman Nancy Johnson has re-introduced a bill originally co-sponsored by Connecticut Congressmen Shays and Rob Simmons that would make federal grants available to offset the costs incurred by cities and towns as part of the tribal recognition and appeals process.

It is our belief that tribal recognition ought to be about preserving, protecting and honoring cultures that are an important and vital part of out nation’s history. It should not be about pitting one group of Connecticut citizens against other groups of Connecticut citizens. Casinos undoubtedly have the potential to provide a great deal of wealth to tribal members – and the non-tribal members who bankroll them. But the social and financial costs to Connecticut’s towns and cities are much too high.