The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs granted final recognition this afternoon to a single Eastern Pequot tribe, effectively telling two rival factions of Indians to work together if they want to open a casino in southeastern Connecticut.
The decision is sure to launch a new round of court battles, from towns opposing the recognition to the tribes themselves. The two tribes, the Eastern Pequots and the Paucatuck Eastern Pequots, each had sought federal recognition and each has expressed interest in opening a gambling facility similar to the Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos.
The Paucatucks have said that the Easterns have fraudulently claimed to be members of the historic Eastern Pequot tribe, which evolved after the Pequot War of 1637. The present Eastern Pequot tribe says the Paucatucks are merely a faction of the same tribe. The Paucatucks have 1,000 members and the Easterns have 150 members.
The decision, announced after a 4 p.m. conference call between the tribes and the BIA, is expected to shake southeastern Connecticut, an area already strained by the presence of Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, considered among the world’s largest and most profitable casinos.
Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and the towns of North Stonington, Ledyard and Preston are expected to go to court immediatly to try to block the recognition decision. They have a pending lawsuit challenging the positive preliminary recognition decision issued in 2000.
“This decision seems to defy fairness, law and fact,” Blumenthal said. “We are concerned that its logic and precedent could provide support for other tribal petitions in Connecticut. The decision appears to be flawed both legally and factually, and will likely lead to an appeal.”
Both tribes have lined up financial backing for casinos and scouted potential locations.
Before a casino could open, the state legislature and Gov. John Rowland would have to amend the existing state compact with the Mashantucket Pequot tribe and the Mohegan tribe, which permits casino-style gambling. Federal law allows casinos in states where gambling is legal. Under the compact, the tribes contribute 25 percent of slots revenue to the state, an amount expected to be about $375 million this year.
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