HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- With his tribe left behind by a plan for up to three more casinos in Connecticut, the leader of the Schaghticoke Indian Tribe says it may pursue a gambling hall on its small, nearly empty reservation alongside the Appalachian Trail.
The Schaghticokes are among several Connecticut tribes that for years have been pursuing federal recognition, and a shot at casinos of their own, in the face of opposition from the state.
Some of them saw hypocrisy in the announcement this week that legislative leaders want to authorize new casinos to be operated by the tribes behind Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun. Alan Russell, the Schaghticoke chief, said he may take up investors on proposals to bring a bingo hall to the state reservation in the Berkshire Mountains town of Kent.
"This is war now," Russell said in an interview. "It surely is."
Connecticut's two federally recognized tribes, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and the Mohegan Tribe, would jointly run the new, smaller facilities under the proposed legislation. Elected leaders have cast the proposal as a way to protect jobs - and the state's share of gambling revenue - as competition in neighboring states hurts Connecticut's existing casinos.
For the administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, the new casinos could also be a way to undercut the ambitions of tribes seeking federal recognition. On a Washington visit last month, Malloy lobbied Vice President Joe Biden in a private, 45-minute meeting on rule changes proposed by the Interior Department that he opposes because they could make it easier for more Connecticut tribes to win recognition. Malloy and other officials have argued that recognition would legitimize tribal land claims and bring about more Connecticut casinos.
The chairman of the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation, Dennis Jenkins, said state Sen. Cathy Osten, a supporter of the new casino plan, appeared before his tribal council several months ago and said she would support their recognition bid as long as they were not planning to open a casino.
"She stated that she was adamantly opposed to any new casinos in the state and those were not the kind of jobs we needed," said Jenkins, who described the new proposal as hypocritical.
Osten said Thursday that she still has doubts about whether another casino is needed.
"The issue today is about Massachusetts stealing our jobs," she said.
The Schaghticokes could face significant obstacles, including the state compact that gives the Mohegans and Pequots exclusive rights to operate slot machines and commercial casinos in Connecticut in exchange for the 25 percent of slot revenue it gives to the state. The office of Connecticut's attorney general declined to offer an opinion on whether the Schaghticokes could offer gambling on their reservation.
Kent First Selectman Bruce Adams said it is "entirely inappropriate" to consider such a facility for his small Litchfield County community.
Russell, who lives on the wooded Schaghticoke reservation, said he felt blindsided by this week's announcement. He said the tribe has some autonomy on the reservation that now has little more than a few dilapidated homes and there is nothing stopping them from building a small-scale gambling hall to provide for members.
Bill Buchanan, a business consultant for the tribe, said the new casino proposal is like "putting a hot stick in our eye." He said the tribe would prefer to build a casino in an urban area along a highway, which would be more realistic if it could gain recognition and swap some land, but in the meantime it could pursue a bingo hall.