Tribe gets federal green light to pursue casino
BOSTON (AP) — The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe has been given a green light to pursue a casino in Massachusetts after the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs opted not to intervene on a revised casino compact with the state.
The bureau had rejected an earlier agreement, saying the state’s share of gambling revenue 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.
The new compact, which was approved by lawmakers and signed by Gov. Deval Patrick, spells out a variety of terms including how much in gambling proceeds Massachusetts would receive should the tribe succeed in its plan to open a resort casino in Taunton.
The state would get 17 percent of gambling revenues if the casino is the only gambling facility in the southeast region, and 21 percent in the unlikely chance it winds up the only casino in the entire state.
Cedric Cromwell, the Mashpee tribal chairman, called the de facto approval of the compact “a monumental, historical day” for the state and for his tribe.
“It’s also great news for the city of Taunton,” Cromwell said. “It advances the tribe’s mission of moving forward with the destination resort casino.”
The tribe must still clear a potentially greater legal hurdle of securing federal land-in-trust approval for the proposed casino.
Cromwell said he anticipates working through the regulatory process successfully.
“We’re moving forward,” he said. “We’re hoping to put a shovel in the ground this year.”
Patrick said he was pleased the compact has been given final approval calling it “another important step toward growing jobs and opportunity in the southeast region, and a good deal for both the commonwealth and the tribe.”
The state’s 2011 expanded gambling law envisions up to three casinos in three geographic areas of Massachusetts and a single slots parlor.
State gambling regulators say they expect to spend the next several months evaluating final applications submitted by three companies hoping to win licenses to build the state’s first resort casinos.
As expected, Wynn Resorts, MGM Resorts International and Mohegan Sun filed detailed “Phase 2” applications with the Massachusetts Gaming Commission by Tuesday’s deadline.
Mohegan Sun and Wynn are vying for the only eastern Massachusetts resort casino license allowed under the 2011 law, while MGM is the only applicant in the state’s western region.
The law also allowed for one resort casino in southeastern Massachusetts, but gave first preference in that region to a federally-recognized Indian tribe — the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe.
The gambling commission has said it would consider applicants for commercial developers in the southeastern region only if the tribe fails to show progress in securing needed federal approvals.
The commission is also weighing three applications submitted in October for the single slots parlor license, with a final decision expected in March.
In another wrinkle to the casino debate, the Martha’s Vineyard-based Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe announced in November that it had received the necessary approval from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs to open a small tribal casino on the island.
Massachusetts officials, however, contend that the tribe gave up its gambling rights in a 1980s settlement that secured tribal lands on the island.
The Patrick administration has filed a lawsuit with the state Supreme Judicial Court seeking to block the island tribe from moving ahead with its plans to convert an unfinished community center into a temporary gambling facility.