Mohegans comply with state compact
Published on 4/21/2009
by LYNN MALERBA
The Mohegan Tribe is not clamoring for stimulus funds like other businesses and governments. It is self-sustaining, and in fact, an economic workhorse in the state.
But you wouldn't know that by the way the state is behaving. It is considering legislation to force a smoking ban at Connecticut's Native American-run casinos that would not only trample on tribal sovereignty, but would also erode business. And these are businesses that feed the state.
Connecticut has lost more than 30,000 jobs in the current recession, the Mohegan Tribe, operators of Mohegan Sun, have kept employees at work without resorting to layoffs. The benefit to the state of the tribe keeping its work force intact in hard economic times is direct and indirect income. These 8,000 employees pay taxes to the state, have health care benefits and frequent local businesses.
Additionally, the tribe pays the state a whopping 25 percent “tax” on its slot machine win as negotiated in its compact with the state, not the 7 percent that other corporations pay. Annually, Mohegan Sun purchases more than $331 million in goods and services from other businesses in the state, the equivalent of 24,000 jobs producing corporate and personal income tax revenues.
Since 1996, Connecticut has collected $2.1 billion from the Mohegan Tribe — far more than the 1,800-member tribe has received for itself from its casino business. Do not be deceived by what is reported as slot income in the newspapers: the state of Connecticut, lending institutions, former business partners and all operational costs must be paid prior to the Mohegan tribe receiving any profits from its business. And to all of this, how has the state responded? It is attempting to withhold a guaranteed (by compact) liquor license to force a smoking ban that almost everyone agrees will decrease revenues by as much as 20 percent. If smoking is banned at the casinos, there will be layoffs.
The impact to the state: less income in corporate, liquor, gas and personal income taxes; less ancillary corporate taxes due to fewer goods purchased; and an increase in state spending for health care and unemployment benefits.
Given the dismal budget projections for Connecticut, should it further jeopardize its tenuous financial position? Ironic, isn't it, that other private establishments, such as VFWs, Polish and Italian meeting halls, and country clubs, are not being threatened with similar legislation Not a single member of the Mohegan Tribal Council believes that smoking is a good thing. Long before the secondhand smoke issue was raised at the state Capitol, the tribe voluntarily undertook measures to reduce the risk to its employees and patrons.
A state-of-the-art air filtering system that continuously exchanges the air has been installed at Mohegan Sun. The tribe has opened non-smoking areas at the casino including slot machine play and table games. Smoking has also been eliminated in all restaurants, retail corridors and employee areas. “Air curtains” have been installed at gaming tables to direct patrons' smoke up to the ventilation handlers.
In fact, 90 percent of the entire property is nonsmoking. Twenty-five percent of the gaming space is nonsmoking. This exceeds our government-to-government agreement with Gov. M. Jodi Rell regarding the reduction of secondhand smoke on our reservation.
Which is the critical point on this issue. The state legislature has no role in the governance of Mohegan lands held in trust by the federal government. No more so than it would in Rhode Island.
All native nations in the U.S. enjoy a special relationship as dependent sovereigns much like states. Mohegan was recognized in Colonial times as a separate nation, with a separate government and land base apart from the colony of Connecticut. Our Mohegan nation and government predated European settlers. This fact was affirmed and recognized by the U.S. when we completed the federal recognition process.
The U.S. does not grant tribal status, it merely recognizes the fact that since its first contact with European settlers, the Mohegans have had an unbroken history of self-governance.
Since the time of Uncas, the Mohegan people have been generous neighbors with the people who eventually created the state of Connecticut. The tribe negotiated a compact with the state when it opened its casino 13 years ago. And we expect the state will honor our compact. It seems only fair.
Ban respects rights of tribe and public
Published on 4/21/2009
By RICHARD BLUMENTHAL
A legislative ban on casino smoking fully respects and recognizes tribal sovereignty, because both tribes have already agreed — as a condition in their state gaming compacts — to adopt Connecticut's public health standards.
The compacts, negotiated in the 1990s, establish firm conditions — enforceable in federal court — that govern operation of the casinos. The tribes have agreed as sovereign nations to honor these conditions, or risk losing state liquor license and gambling rights.
Among the most significant requirements is that the tribes maintain health and safety standards “no less rigorous than standards generally imposed by the laws and regulations of the state relating to public facilities.
The operative health standard is a 2003 law — one of the most profoundly important public health measures in recent history — prohibiting smoking in virtually all public places, including restaurants and bars.
The legislature is now prepared to extend our smoking ban to tribal casinos — the only present exceptions — to protect tens of thousands of patrons and employees exposed to deadly cancer-causing secondhand smoke every day.
The proposed smoking ban recognizes and respects public health — saving lives and medical treatment dollars — by stopping secondhand smoke, a proven killer.
The measure also respects and recognizes the economic realities — possible competition from other gambling venues — by implementing it in stages over a period of years.
The tribes have opposed this measure, even threatening to hold hostage hundreds of millions of dollars in slot revenue owed to Connecticut taxpayers. This move is deeply saddening — imperiling a long-standing positive and productive relationship between the tribes and the state.
No economic apocalypse will result from a smoking ban at the casinos — just as there was none at restaurants and bars. As a matter of fact, business there has increased because non-smokers — who constitute more than 80 percent of our society — can finally enjoy smoke-free environments.
While predicted economic harm from smoking bans has proven illusory, the dangers of secondhand smoke are real. Secondhand smoke kills. It causes all the same fatal and intensely painful, costly diseases as smoking itself.
I have been a strong and consistent advocate of banning smoking in public places for more than a decade. I have been proud to help lead national efforts, including our landmark legal battle, against Big Tobacco.
I recognize that public places on reservations belonging to federally recognized tribes have a different status under federal law and principles of tribal sovereignty. These principles of sovereignty in no way bar the state from prohibiting smoking because the tribes have voluntarily agreed in the compacts to adopt the state's public health legal standards.
Installing smoking ventilation systems and adopting partial smoking bans as the tribes have suggested are inadequate because they fail to effectively protect patrons and employees from secondhand smoke, especially on the casino floors.
But the proposed ban permits — and I would welcome — a voluntary tribal law ban adopted by the tribes as sovereign measure and substitute for legislative prohibition
Protecting employees from secondhand smoke should provide a financial incentive for the tribes — diminishing costs of employee sickness and medical treatment.
Many states, heeding economic incentives, are moving to ban smoking in gambling facilities. Massachusetts has stated that no smoking will be allowed in any tribal casinos authorized in that state. At least three tribes have voluntarily prohibited smoking in their casinos. In addition, Puerto Rico, Ontario, Quebec, the United Kingdom, France and Ireland all prohibit casino smoking.
I am hopeful that both tribes will rethink their resistance and responsibly protect their patrons and hard-working employees.
My office stands ready to enforce the clear terms of our compacts while respecting tribal sovereignty.
Brokenwings Comment; Some of things talked about in both letters are right and some are wrong.
On LYNN MALEERBA, the Vice Chairwoman of the Mohegan TRibal Council, here are my thoughts.
Malerba does not mention in her letter that the Mohegan Tribal Government laid off about 50 workers.
In the Mohegan Sun Casino, there is a policy of a attrition, workers who leave are not being replaced. There were cut backs in salaries to the September 2008 levels.
Workers at the casino gave up 4%, 8% and 10 % depending on their earnings levels. The Mohegan Tribal Council only gave up 8%. Shame on the Tribal Council. Benefits for tribal government workers and casino workers, as well as tribal members, were partially cut or totally taken away.
When Ms.Malerba said that there would be layoffs, if the smoking ban went into effect, is that possibly opening the door to unions?
The VFW, Polish halls and Italian halls, etc. are private clubs and should come under the rules of the clubs, and not the State of Connecticut. Could some people take the comment about Italian and Polish as prejudicial? Was it racial or in bad taste? Should it have been said?
The fact is that bars and restaurants come under a smoking ban so why shouldn't the casinos? Granted the casinos pay a lot more in taxes than all the bars and restaurants combined.
Malerba is correct when she states the Mohegan Tribe gained Federal Recognition because it was a sovereignity, a government, a nation and not because it was a family.
What she didn't talk about, was how Bruce "Two Dogs" Bozsum, the Mohegan Tribal Council Chairman and Helga Woods, the Attorney General of the Mohegan Tribe, threatened to withhold payments of revenues to the state. Not a smart thing to do. She evidently agrees with this plan of action.
The only people, who will make out if a lawsuit commences will be, the lawyers representing the tribe and the state.
Although, I don't want to see a smoking ban either, I don't think Lynn Malerba did a very good job of explaining the tribe's position on the smoking ban. I think Lynn Malerba is a preson who cares for the Mohegan Tribal government workers and the Mohegan Sun Casino workers. The letter, somehow doesn't seem to get that point across. Did anyone help Malerba on her letter? If someone advised her, in my opinion, they should be let go. Lynn Malerba is running for re-election for the Tribal Council. Do you think she will get re-elected? What do you think?
Brokenwing Editorial Comment on Richard Blumenthal, the Attorney General of Connecticut. If what he says is true, that the Mohegan Tribe and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe both agreed about the public and their employees health in the compacts, then neither tribe has a leg to stand on.
Blumenthal seems genuinely concerned for the workers and patrons who visit and work in the casinos. No matter how good the ventilation system is in a casino, (I think the one in the Mohegan Sun is quite good), the dangers of second hand smoke still exist. A bar or restaurants have better air quality because there is no smokiing allowed, therefore the air quality is better.
The medical bills for the workers in a smoking environment are mostly likely higher than in a smoke free environment. He's probably right.
Blumenthal doesn't seem to want to over throw the tribe's sovereignity, what he is stating is that he wants the tribes to live up to the deal they made with the state.
From the tone of the letter, it seems that Blumenthal will not back down. The tribes are on a collision course of destruction.
He wrote a very well thought out letter. He did a good job, stating his case.