Attorney General: Susan G. Townsley, Division of Special Reveue, 2002-003 Formal Opinion, Attorney General of Connecticut

Attorney General's Opinion

Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal

January 31, 2002

Susan G. Townsley
Executive Director
Division of Special Reveue
555 Russell Street
Hartford, CT 06111

Dear Ms. Townsely:

This is in response to your request for an opinion on whether a certain bill, proposed in last year’s legislative session, and which is expected to be proposed again, would conflict with the Tribal/State agreements or Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) with the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan Tribes concerning the operations of the two casinos in Connecticut. The bill would allow businesses to conduct games of chance under certain circumstances. For the following reasons, we believe that if this bill becomes law, it would likely permit the Tribes to terminate their obligation to contribute a portion of their slot machine revenues to the State, currently amounting to over $300 million per year.

The bill proposes to change the Games of Chance laws, Conn. Gen. Stat. §7-186a, et seq., which currently authorize certain nonprofit organizations to promote and operate games of chance to raise funds for the organizations.1 The events are commonly known as Las Vegas Nights. You explain the proposed legislation as follows:

Specifically, Casino Productions of CT. LLC, seeks the approval of legislation which would amend provisions of the Games of Chance Act so as to allow any business in the state to sponsor an event at which games of chance may be played, if the purpose of the event is strictly social and held in connection with a business-related function. As proposed, no charge of any form would be made to play the games of chance and no wagering would be permitted which would involve anything of value, except that the business would be allowed to provide door prizes. The businesses would not be allowed to advertise or otherwise hold the event open to members of the general public, and would not be allowed to hold more than two such events during any calendar year. Such legislation would allow a Games of Chance Equipment Dealer registered with the Division of Special Revenue to rent casino gaming equipment, such as roulette wheels, money wheels, or Baccarat, crap or poker tables, to businesses possessing a permit to conduct games of chance.

The critical point, for the purposes of this opinion, is that the bill would allow for-profit, commercial businesses to promote and operate Las Vegas Nights.

The pertinent MOUs between the State and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe and Mohegan Tribe authorize the operation of video facsimile games,2 particularly slot machines, at the tribal casinos in Ledyard and Uncasville, Connecticut, operating pursuant to the Procedures for the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe’s Foxwood Casino and the Compact for the Mohegan Sun Casino. Both the Procedures and the Compact contain a moratorium on video facsimile games. Mashantucket Pequot Procedures, Sec. 15(a); Mohegan Compact, Sec. 15(a). The MOUs suspend the moratoria and permit the Tribes to operate video facsimile games, so long as the Tribes comply with the terms and conditions of the MOUs. 1993 Conn. Op. Atty. Gen. ___ (1993), Letter to Rep. Ritter and Rep. Krawiecki (February 11, 1993) (Mashantucket Pequot MOU); 1994 Conn. Op. Atty. Gen. ___ (1994), Letter to Sen. Larson, et al. (May 18, 1994) (Mohegan MOU).

Both MOUs contain a provision requiring the tribes to pay to the State 25 percent of the gross operating revenues from video facsimile machines. However, the MOUs with both tribes excuse this obligation to pay if certain State gambling laws change as follows:

The Tribe agrees that, so long as no change in state law is enacted to permit the operation of video facsimiles or other commercial casino games by any other person and no other person within the State lawfully operates video facsimiles or other commercial casino games, the Tribe will contribute to the state a sum (the "contribution") equal to twenty-five percent (25%) of gross operating revenues of video facsimile games operated by the Tribe.

* * *

In the event that any change in state law is enacted to permit the operation of video facsimiles or other commercial casino games by any other person or any other person within the state lawfully operates video facsimile games or other commercial casino games, the Tribe shall not be bound by the provisions of this Memorandum of Understanding ...

Mashantucket Pequot Second Amendment MOU of April 25, 1994, pp. 1-2, Attachment A (Emphasis added); See also, Mohegan MOU of May 17, 1994, pp. 2, 8 Attachment B (language slightly different, but same meaning).

In 1994, when the legislature considered enacting a change in the State gaming laws which would allow the operation of video facsimile machines in the State, we opined, "The short answer to your question is that a valid statutory enactment which authorizes the use of video facsimiles in the State will result in cessation of contributions by the Tribe." 1994 Conn. Op. Atty. Gen. ___ (1994), Letter to Rep. Ritter (February 4, 1994), Attachment C.

In the instant case, similarly, we conclude that if the proposed bill is enacted, it would likely constitute a change to a State law to allow commercial casino games and would likely cause cessation of contributions by the Tribes. That the proposed bill would likely trigger this result is based on a reading of the plain language in the MOUs.

In interpreting the MOUs, we noted in an earlier opinion:

The MOU was negotiated as part of the Agreement and Gaming compact between the State and the Tribe for the operation of the Tribal Casino pursuant to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. 28 U.S.C. §2701, et seq. In analyzing compact agreements, the ordinary rules of statutory and contract interpretation are employed. See Oklahoma v. New Mexico, 501 U.S. 221, 246, 111 S.Ct. 2281, 115 L.Ed.2d 207 (1991) (concurring opinion); United States v. Utah, Nevada & California Stage Co., 199 U.S. 414, 423, 26 S.Ct. 69, 50 L.Ed.2d 251 (1905). In interpreting written agreements, the goal is to discern the intent of the parties. See Lodge 7004 Intern. Ass’n. of Machinists v. United Aircraft Corp., 193 F.Supp. 69, 70 (D.Conn. 1961). The intention of the parties is to be ascertained from the language used, and the language must be given its common meaning and usage. Scribner v. O’Brien, 169 Conn. 389, 398, 363 A.2d 160 (1975). The agreement must be interpreted as a whole, with all relevant provisions considered together. Beckenstein v. Potter & Carrier, Inc., 191 Conn. 120, 134, 464 A.2d 6 (1983). Doubtful expressions should be interpreted in favor of the Tribe. 74 Am. Jur. 2d Treaties, §33.

1998 Conn. Op. Atty. Gen. ___ (1998), Letter to George Wandrak (January 12, 1998).

Employing these rules of construction, the term "casino" means "[a] public room or building for gambling and other entertainment." American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th Ed. 2000). The term "game" means "[a]n activity providing entertainment or amusement ... [t]o play for stakes; gamble.” American Heritage Dictionary, supra. In the context of the gaming laws, cases concerning casino games typically illustrate that term by citing to the types of games involved: blackjack, craps, poker, roulette, slot machines and other lawful games of chance. See, e.g., Valley Broadcasting Co. v. United States, 820 F.Supp. 519, 524 (D.C. Nev. 1993), aff’d, 107 F.3d 1328 (9th Cir. 1997). The cases and statutes defining the term typically reference the traditional gambling-based games. See, e.g., Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon v. Oregon State Lottery Comm’n, 118 Or. App. 735, 746 n.2, 849 P.2d 532 (1992), citing ORS §167.117(3). As you describe it, the bill in the instant question involves precisely the same type of gambling-based games: roulette, money wheels, Baccarat, craps and poker.

Moreover, the critical factor is that the bill would change existing law to authorize the playing of these casino games in the commercial context. "Commercial" means "[o]f or relating to commerce" and “commerce” means "[t]he buying and selling of goods, especially on a large scale ... Synonyms at business." American Heritage Dictionary, supra. The proposal here would allow casino games to be promoted and sponsored by for-profit businesses at events hosted by those businesses. It is likely, therefore, that such games would be considered to be "other commercial casino games" within the meaning of the MOUs. That the games would involve no wagering of cash (but would involve door prizes) and would be restricted to business invitees as opposed to the general public would not remove them from the purview of the MOUs. Under the MOUs, enactment of the proposed bill involving casino game promotions by the for-profit, private business sector would likely trigger an end to the Tribes’ obligation to make contributions.

For all of the foregoing reasons, we conclude that the bill proposing to allow businesses to conduct games of chance as described would likely permit the Tribes to terminate their obligation to make contributions to the State from slot machine revenues at the casinos.

Very truly yours,

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL
ATTORNEY GENERAL

Robert F. Vacchelli
Assistant Attorney General

RB/RFV/bjo
Attachment


1Conn. Gen. Stat. §7-186a(b) allows Las Vegas Nights to be promoted and operated by a charitable, civil, educational, fraternal, veterans’ or religious organization, volunteer fire department, grange or political party or town committee. Conn. Gen. Stat. §7-186a(c) extends the privilege to a public or nonpublic secondary school or a group of parents of students attending such a school or of the teachers or administrators of such a school.

2The term "video facsimile" means any mechanical, electrical or other device, contrivance or machine, which, upon insertion of a coin, currency, token or similar object therein, or upon payment of any consideration whatsoever, is available to play or operate, the play or operation of which is a facsimile of a game of chance, and which may deliver or entitle the persons playing or operating the machine to receive cash or tokens to be exchanged for cash or to receive any merchandise or thing of value, whether the payoff is made automatically from the machine or in any other manner whatsoever. Mashantucket Pequot Procedures, Sec. 2 (cc); Mohegan Compact, Sec. 2 (cc).


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