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Mass. Senate approves tribal casino agreement

November 7, 2013

BOSTON (AP) — The Massachusetts Senate signed off Thursday on a revised casino compact between Gov. Deval Patrick and the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe.

The agreement, reached between the tribe and the governor in March, was approved Thursday on a voice vote. No senator spoke on the floor against the compact, which spells out a variety of terms including how much in gambling revenue the state would receive should the tribe succeed in opening a resort casino in Taunton.

The House voted 116-38 last month to back the compact, after several lawmakers from the state’s southeastern region argued that the agreement should be put aside until it becomes clear whether the tribe can gain federal land-in-trust approval for the Taunton site.

The 2011 state law that authorized up to three resort casinos in Massachusetts gave temporary exclusivity to a federally recognized Indian tribe in the southeast region. The state gambling commission, however, has since voted to open the region to commercial applicants, citing legal uncertainties surrounding the land-in-trust process.

The compact between Patrick and the Mashpee must be approved by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, which last year rejected an earlier agreement that guaranteed the state 21.5 percent of gambling revenues from a tribal casino. The bureau said the state’s share was too high and would violate the spirit of federal Indian gambling law that calls for casino profits to primarily benefit members of a tribe.

Under the revised compact, the tribe would give the state 17 percent of its gambling revenues if its casino is the only gambling facility in the southeast region, and 21 percent if it winds up as the only casino built in the state.

The revenue share would drop to 15 percent if a slot parlor opened in the southeast, and the tribe would owe the state nothing in the event another commercial resort casino opened in the region.

Cedric Cromwell, Mashpee tribal chairman, said the Senate vote brings the project “one step closer to fruition,” and predicted the state would receive $2.1 billion in revenue over the 20-year term of the compact.

Also Thursday, House Speaker Robert DeLeo cast doubt on whether a proposed casino at Suffolk Downs — which he has strongly supported — could be salvaged in the wake of Tuesday’s vote by East Boston residents against the project.

Revere Mayor Dan Rizzo has suggested that Suffolk Downs move the project entirely into his city — which voted in favor of the casino.

“While I think it’s a noble effort to try to keep it within the region, I’m not certain at this time whether that’s feasible,” said DeLeo, whose father once operated a restaurant at the thoroughbred racetrack.

The speaker said complications could include space requirements for the casino, the need for Suffolk Downs to choose a new development partner, and the rapidly approaching Dec. 31 deadline for final casino applications to be submitted to the gaming panel.

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