Connecticut has yielded to requests from American Indian tribes seeking a larger law enforcement role at two of the country's largest casinos, slashing the amount the resorts will have to pay the state back for the services of state police troopers and other security agents, officials said Monday.
The assessments for state police, liquor control agents and auditors at the casinos have been reduced by a combined total of about $4.5 million, Colleen Flanagan, a spokeswoman for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, told The Associated Press. The assessments for the 2010-11 fiscal year were $7.3 million for the Foxwoods Resort Casino and $6.8 million for Mohegan Sun.
Flanagan said the cut reflects a commitment on the part of the state to shift some responsibilities to the tribes, which operate the casinos on sovereign land in rural southeastern Connecticut. She said both sides are still working out the details.
"We want to both demonstrate our respect for their sovereignty while ensuring protection of the state's significant interests in the operation of the casinos and the safety of their visitors," Flanagan said. She added that the adjustment will allow the state to "use its resources more efficiently elsewhere."
The two casinos, which receive tens of thousands of daily visitors, are required to reimburse state security expenses under compacts signed with the state in the 1990s. But tribal authorities said they developed internal capabilities that allow them to fulfill the same duties as state agents _ and often at a lower cost.
Tribal officials said Malloy, a Democrat who took office this year, was the first governor in years to welcome a review of state-provided services. Talks began in August with officials representing the casinos, which have seen gambling revenue decline for several years due to the weak economy.
Mayor Peter Nystrom of Norwich, a city that borders the Mohegan reservation, said the administration's decision reflects a willingness to work with large businesses affected by the economy.
"This tells me our new governor is acknowledging the economic forces out there better than others," said Nystrom, a Republican.
Mohegan Sun is training more tribal police for casino patrols, and visitors will not notice any change in security, said Chuck Bunnell, the chief of staff for external affairs for the Mohegan Tribe, which owns the casino. He said the tribe can do the same work more cheaply because it does not have the same overtime issues as state police, who are unionized, and the transition will allow the state to put more troopers on the road.
"We're very grateful to the administration and for their willingness to sit down and have a healthy discussion for the betterment of the state and the tribes," Bunnell said.
Bunnell said tribal police officers, like troopers, are certified by the state's Police Officer Standards and Training Council, and they already patrol the casino in far greater numbers than state police. Many tribal officers are law enforcement veterans who work at the casinos following their retirement from state or local police departments.
Bill Satti, a spokesman for the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, which operates Foxwoods, said in an email that the tribe feels the Malloy administration is the first to respect "Government to Government discussions." He said the tribe believes that is important as they work on other issues of mutual interest.
The two casinos rank among the biggest in North America _ Mohegan Sun posted $719 million in slot-machine revenue alone in the last fiscal year, compared with $650 million for Foxwoods _ and few venues in Connecticut rival their level of security.
State police have special units inside each casino that patrol around the clock, responding to thefts, assaults and other crimes inside the gambling areas and elsewhere on tribal lands. Five liquor control agents each are assigned to Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun. Government auditors are also involved in reviewing the books at the casinos, which contribute 25 percent of slot-machine revenue to the state general fund.
State Rep. Stephen Dargan, the chairman of the House public safety and security committee, said he is pleased the state was able to reach a deal. He said the tribal police are qualified and he does not expect any letdown in security.
"They still have a good collaborative relationship with the Department of Public Safety, God forbid something major happened," said Dargan, a West Haven Democrat.