November 17, 2013

Massachusetts tribe confident of federal OK for casino plan

A bigger hurdle for the Mashpee Wampanoag will be getting approval for its proposed site in Taunton.

The Associated Press

BOSTON – Leaders of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe said they were confident a revised casino compact signed Friday by Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick would win approval from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, which rejected an earlier agreement reached with the state.

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Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick sits with Mashpee Wampanoag Chairman Cedric Cromwell, far left, Vice Chairwoman Jesse Little Doe Baird and Chief Vernon Lopez, far right, on Friday at the Statehouse in Boston, where he signed a revised casino compact between the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Tribal leaders, who hope to build a resort casino in Taunton, say they’re confident the revised casino compact will be approved by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The Associated Press

The compact won final passage in the Legislature this week and 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.

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

Federal officials rejected the previous compact last year, in part because they considered the guaranteed state share of 21.5 percent of gambling revenues to be too high.

Cedric Cromwell, the Mashpee tribal chairman, said after Friday’s signing ceremony that federal officials were consulted during negotiations on the revised agreement, leading him to believe it will get a green light from the bureau.

“We’ve got a compact that we are really confident about,” he said.

Even if the state compact is approved, the tribe must still clear a potentially greater legal hurdle of securing federal land-in-trust approval for the proposed casino site in Taunton. Cromwell said the land-in-trust process was going smoothly and that hearings were planned next month on a draft environmental impact report.

The signing of the compact came three days after another federally recognized Massachusetts tribe, the Martha’s Vineyard-based Aquinnah Wampanoag, announced plans to open a small casino on the island. The Aquinnah also called on Patrick to open negotiations over a state compact that could allow them to build a larger resort casino that could potentially compete with a casino in Taunton.

Mashpee tribal leaders declined to comment on the Aquinnah’s plans, saying it was against Wampanoag tradition to speak about another sovereign tribe.

“Certainly their community will know what’s best for them and the governor will give them every due respect, I’m sure,” said the tribe’s vice chairwoman, Jessie Little Doe Baird. “But that is their business, and not ours.”

The Patrick administration has contended that the Aquinnah gave up their rights to conduct gambling in a 1980s land settlement.

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