Conn. Governor Admits New Law Barring More Indian Casinos May Not Hold Up

Connecticut Gov. John G. Rowland signed legislation Tuesday that blocks the expansion of Indian gambling in the state by repealing a law that permitted churches and civic groups to raise money with casino-type games.

Connecticut already has two of the world's largest casinos — Foxwoods Casino, operated by the Mashantucket Pequot tribe, and the Mohegan Sun, run by the Mohegans.

The Pequots used Connecticut's "Las Vegas Nights" statute to negotiate a gambling compact with the state after they were recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Federal law permits recognized tribes to pursue any gambling already allowed by a state.

The House voted 83-59 Monday in favor of repealing the law and the Senate approved the measure on a 25-10 vote an hour later.

Rowland, a Republican, said he expects the measure will be challenged in court and acknowledged that it will be difficult to defend.

"I liken it to the Supreme Court saying McDonald's can have a franchise here but Burger King can't," Rowland said. "I just don't see the Supreme Court ruling in our favor, but the attorney general has asked us to pass this legislation. He thinks he can defend it. Good luck to him."

State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said he anticipates a legal challenge, but expects the state to prevail. He said the state does not permit gaming, rather, gambling was imposed on the state.

Several Connecticut tribes and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People have already threatened lawsuits over the repeal.

Lawmakers said the repeal would not affect the existing casinos.

The BIA last year recognized a third Connecticut tribe, the Eastern Pequots. A fourth, the Golden Hill Paugussetts, expects a preliminary BIA decision this month. They and several other groups seeking recognition in Connecticut are hoping to open casinos.

Two tribes seeking recognition say the state is targeting them. "They used particular legislation against a particular group of people to deny them equal rights under the law," said Chief Quiet Hawk, head of the Golden Hill Paugussetts of Trumbull.

Members of the legislature's black and Hispanic caucus argued the repeal would be discriminatory.

"Government ought to protect the rights of everybody," said state Rep. Ernest Newton. "Now, today it might be the Indians. Tomorrow it might be somebody else."

But critics say the big casinos cause a variety of problems, including crime, problem gambling and traffic jams.

While prohibiting charities to have casino-style "Las Vegas Nights," the new law would allow them to continue to sponsor raffles and bingo games to raise money.