State regulators wade through Mashpee tribe’s casino issues
By Colin A. Young / State House News Service
Posted Dec 6, 2019
Gaming Commission updated on Wampanoag’s ongoing legal battles.
BOSTON — As they continue to mull the question of issuing the final casino license available under an 8-year-old law, gaming commissioners were brought up to speed Thursday on the complex web of litigation and legislation surrounding the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s quest to secure land in trust, on which it intends to build a casino in Taunton.
The briefing from the Gaming Commission’s executive director and legal team was meant to give the decision-makers a sense of the ongoing legal wrangling over the decision to approve the tribe’s land in trust, which was granted by the Obama administration but overturned and thrown into doubt by the Trump administration. The tribe planned to construct its $1 billion First Light Resort and Casino on tribal land in Taunton, a project that would have a significant impact on the state’s commercial casino industry.
Region C, the commission’s name for Bristol, Plymouth, Barnstable, Dukes and Nantucket counties, has been an unsettled matter for the commission for years. In 2016, when it appeared a tribal casino in Taunton was likely, regulators rejected a proposal for a commercial casino in Brockton. Since then, the commission has discussed reopening the bidding for Region C, but has not been in any rush to take that step.
“What we’re attempting to do here is to provide a framework for the beginning of that discussion,” Executive Director Edward Bedrosian told commissioners at the outset of the briefing Thursday.
A federal judge’s ruling later in 2016 nullified the Obama administration’s decision to grant the Wampanoag a 320-acre reservation on which the tribe planned to construct a resort casino and President Donald Trump’s administration last year officially reversed the Obama-era declaration.
Since then, the tribe’s efforts to secure its land in trust status have been tied up in federal court. Deputy General Counsel Todd Grossman walked commissioners through the three main cases at play. One is Littlefield et al. v. U.S. Department of the Interior, in which a judge ruled in 2016 that the land could not be held in trust. That verdict was appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit and the appeal remains pending.
There’s also a case in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia — Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe v. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt — in which the tribe argues that the Department of the Interior secretary failed to properly consider extensive factual evidence it submitted to make the case that it should be eligible for land in trust.
Associate General Counsel Justin Stempeck told commissioners that the D.C. district case is “pending with multiple current summary judgment motions” and he estimated that no resolution would come until the latter end of a six- to nine-month window.
As the tribe works to secure its land in trust through the courts, U.S. Rep. William Keating, who represents Taunton and Mashpee, has pushed legislation that would use the power of Congress to reaffirm the 2015 decision by the Interior Department to take land into trust for the tribe, though Trump has opposed it.
The U.S. House of Representatives voted 275-146 in May to approve that bill, titled the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act, and it has not moved since being referred to the U.S. Senate that same month.
In addition to getting up to speed on the lawsuits and federal legislation involving the tribe, the commission also agreed in October to have its staff draft a request for information that would solicit information on all sorts of relevant Region C matters, like the state of the gaming market, local support and more.
Commission Chairwoman Cathy Judd-Stein said she was interested in questions that “reflect the struggle we have with respect to equity” and include an examination of the statewide implications of a Region C casino as well as the impact to the surrounding communities.
“I think we do have an obligation to consider the best interest of the commonwealth as well as the region,” she said. “It’s not lost on I don’t think any of us here that Region C folks, not all, may be interested in having a casino because of the economic benefits that we’ve seen coming through both regions A and B, yet we are not obligated ... to issue another license. So I am particularly interested in the question around the impact of Region C in the absence of our issuing a license.”
One concern, as expressed by local officials and others, is that commercial casino operators might not be willing to invest the minimum $500 million in a project that could have to compete with a nearby tribal casino. If the Gaming Commission opts to go ahead with licensing a commercial casino in Region C and the tribe is allowed to open its own casino under federal law, Massachusetts would receive no tax revenue from the tribal casino.
The commission did not vote to take any particular action Thursday but agreed to provide feedback on an eventual new draft prepared by staff at a later date.
That means Americans are losing $224,505 per minute.
The Way Forward
Building assets, the accumulation and investment of savings, are key for anyone looking to make a better life. A home, a college fund, retirement accounts, a stock portfolio—these assets are the hallmarks of middle and upper class America, and they are all the result of savings.
Building assets is the direct opposite of commercialized gambling. No single policy reform would create more financial peace for low-to-middle-income citizens than reversing the current scheme of turning millions of people who are small earners, who could be small savers, into habitual bettors.
Partial List of Reform Proposals Include:
To safeguard the health of minors, no kids under should be exposed to gambling ads and marketing on TV, radio, at point-of-sale, or on the internet.
No advertising or marketing of commercialized gambling to low income populations.
A ban on the sale of lottery products in check-cashing outlets, which serve unbanked, low-income people.
No high dollar lottery tickets should be sold in low income areas (ending the practice of selling tickets greater than $5.00)
Capping staking levels on all slot machine-style games, regardless whether it is a physical machine or online, to $2.00 or less. There is no justification for staking levels above $2.00.
End the predatory practice of allowing commercialized gambling on credit, whether by credit card or “markers,” (interest-free loans issued by casinos.) It’s inconceivable that states encourage citizens to fund their gambling addiction using debt.
Require state lotteries to track and report re-wagers and quantify their relationship to sales and subsequent prizes.
Ban “loot boxes” and other elements of commercialized gambling that are currently being engineered into video games that kids under 18 are playing.
Reduce the overall amount of lottery games being marketed to the public. Presently, some states offer dozens of different gambling games. For example, Texas was promoting 92 scratch games for sale in November 2019.
Reduce the amount of locations where extreme forms of gambling like electronic gambling machines are being marketed by the state.
Reduce the speed of the commercialized gambling being offered by states. Many of the most harmful forms of commercialized gambling are also the fastest like electronic gambling machines, online gambling, and scratch tickets.
Require commercialized gambling interests to be treated the same under civil litigation laws as any other business.
Create an Office of the Public Advocate committed to public service in representing state citizens in any matter that is covered by the authority of the state gambling commissions, as well as proceedings before state and federal agencies and courts, so that they are protected from being exploited and cheated by commercialized gambling operators. This is similar to what many states do in representing state utility consumers.
Require that state problem gambling councils collect and report annual data on state gambling addiction numbers and on the effectiveness of the problem gambling interventions being funded (changing the measurement from how many calls are taken to how many people are moved from addicted to not addicted).
Restrictions on the inducements offered to gamblers to keep them gambling or luring them to start gambling after they have stopped.
Please consider how you can use your time, talent, and treasure to help move these desperately-needed, long-overdue social reforms forward over the next 18 months and let me know. Thank you.
Les Bernal National Director Stop Predatory Gambling
Who We Are —
- A 501c3 non-profit based in Washington, DC, we are a national social reform network of citizens and organizations from across the U.S.
- We believe in improving the lives of the American people with compassion and fairness, freeing us from the lower standard of living, exploitation, and fraud that commercialized gambling spreads.
- We are one of the most diverse organizations in the United States, one in which conservatives and progressives work side-by-side to improve the common good.
What We Stand For —
- We believe everyone should have a fair opportunity to get ahead and improve their future.
- We believe every person’s life has worth and that no one is expendable.
- We believe that a good society depends on the values of honesty, concern for others, mutual trust, self-discipline, sacrifice, and a work ethic that connects effort and reward.
- We believe no government body should depend on predatory gambling to fund its activities.
Regulators want briefing on Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s casino status
By Colin A. Young / State House News Service
Posted Oct 24,2019
Gaming Commission appears in no hurry to act on Region C license.
BOSTON — Gaming regulators want to know the exact status of federal litigation around the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s quest to secure land in trust before making a decision about the state’s third casino license, although Gaming Commission members appeared in no rush Thursday to begin accepting applications for a Southeastern Massachusetts casino.
The state commission agreed to have its executive director and legal team work up a comprehensive briefing on the ongoing legal wrangling over the decision to grant the tribe land in trust, which was approved by the Obama administration but overturned and thrown into doubt by the Trump administration. The tribe planned to build its $1 billion First Light Resort and Casino on tribal land in Taunton, a project that would have a significant impact on the state’s commercial casino industry.
“The commission’s staff, our legal department, have been following the status of the federal legislation and litigation that relates particularly to the complicated tribal matter ... I think it’s probably a good time to actually update us more formally through a memorandum. It’s very complicated,” Chairwoman Cathy Judd-Stein said. “I do think probably that needs to be formalized, because it’s an important part of the overall Region C evaluation and discussion.”
The uncertainty of Region C — the commission’s name for Bristol, Plymouth, Barnstable, Dukes and Nantucket counties — has been an issue for years. In 2016, when it appeared a tribal casino in Taunton was likely, regulators rejected a proposal for a commercial casino in Brockton. A federal judge’s ruling later that year nullified the decision to grant the Wampanoag a 320-acre reservation on which the tribe planned to construct a resort casino, and President Donald Trump’s administration last year officially reversed the Obama-era declaration.
Since then, the tribe’s efforts to secure its land-in-trust status have been tied up in federal court. U.S. Rep. William Keating, who represents Mashpee, has pushed legislation that would use the power of Congress to reaffirm the 2015 decision by the Interior Department to take land into trust for the tribe, though Trump has opposed it.
On Thursday, Sen. Marc Pacheco told the commission he has been trying to get clarity on where things stand with the tribe’s legal battles and the congressional efforts to address its concerns.
“I made a call before I came over to try to figure out what was happening at the federal level, and my sources tell me we probably won’t know too much until the end of the year,” Pacheco said.
Pacheco, who lives in and represents the city where the tribe hopes to build its casino, said he supports the commission’s plan to gather more information before making a decision one way or the other.
“I’m here to ask the commission to continue with your thoughtful deliberation about everything that is going on and to not make a decision, even though it may be in our best interest, because it’s within your jurisdiction under existing law to go out for a commercial casino if the commission chooses to,” he said. “If I know that there is absolutely no way that a Native American casino can come to be in Region C, I’d be one of the first people here to urge you to do so. But if that uncertainty still looms out there at any level, it will have a significant effect on those that even bid.”
The concern, as expressed by Pacheco and others, is that commercial casino operators might not be willing to invest the minimum $500 million in a project that would have to compete with a nearby tribal casino. If the Gaming Commission opts to go ahead with licensing a commercial casino in Region C and the tribe is allowed to open its own casino under federal law, Massachusetts would receive no tax revenue from the tribal casino.
Although the commission took no formal vote related to Region C, the decision to seek more information suggested it is in no hurry to make a ruling on the one remaining casino license.
Commissioner Enrique Zuniga stressed that it will be crucial for the commission to conduct its own economic analysis of the Region C market, noting that the two resort casinos that already have opened in other regions of the state are coming up short of their own revenue projections.
“I currently feel no sense of urgency ... if we have not seen the levels that the applicants themselves predicted, because they did predict certain revenues from year one and they’re not currently seeing those revenues,” Zuniga said. “I would rather, frankly, see how it goes, do more analysis and understand better how they’re competing in the market. It’s early, in my opinion.”
A spokeswoman for the Mashpee tribe did not respond to a request for comment Thursday night.
Cedric was not alone in selling us out. His Council cronies voted with him on every money transfer and bad deal ever made.
The tribe’s outside auditors had some bad news for the Council. They were not able to complete their audit because of the federal grand jury investigation. The current Treasurer, Gordon Harris, former treasurer Robbie Hendricks and according to our sources Cromwell business partner and former treasurer Mark Harding have all been subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury and it has possession of tribal financial records. The auditors do not have access to those documents. And the auditors querries got a donut from the feds
IT GOT WORSE
That tricky Gaming Commission. It was a dumping ground for millions of dollars each month. NO ONE EVER KNEW WHAT HAPPENED TO THAT MONEY or How it was spent.
So now the bill comes due. The auditors couldn’t get much intell out of the feds…actually nothing. But they
Yvonne, 30 years a council member never used her education or experience to help. Her silence was lethal as ever. Slithering into her hiding place like an eel.
know about these things. There’s a clause in the financial agreement with the investors that says that if there’s “bad faith” actions (and the auditor put it like this) :
” I’m not saying it happened, but let’s just say someone in the gaming commission took between $100,000 and $1m….then the tribal assets are at risk.”
That means what land we own etc. would go to Genting for payment. A drop in the bucket compared to what we owe them. Cedric and his ouncil Cronies knew about the fine print so why didn’t the tribal attorneys or any of them tell us? Well, they had to keep getting that money…at any cost.
So now we’re in a really bad place. Reel Wamps has to confess that pounding on Cedric Cromwell was not
enough. He didn’t create this horror show alone. He had a lot of help from the Council cronies. A really sorry lot. Jess$e Big Doe and Mark(ie) Poo Harding leading the parade. The ancestors are spinning in their graves. Everything Cedric did came with their vote of approval. Their complicity was tantamount to their participating in the felonymurder of the Tribe. Just because you didn’t pull the trigger does not absolve the guilt. You must have proof that you tried to stop the crime. They were cowards all the way. They should be held accountable.
Injunction to be filed to force Mashpee Wampanoag tribal recall election
By Christine Legere
Posted Sep 3, 2019
MASHPEE — The Mashpee Wampanoag Election Committee’s abrupt cancellation of Sunday’s recall election for two top Tribal Council officials was met with outrage by the Tribal Council member who is the driving force behind the effort
Council Chairman Cedric Cromwell and Treasurer Gordon Harris were the targets of the recall, which was prompted by petitions bearing the signatures of 100 registered voters of the tribe.
On Thursday, the election committee posted a notice canceling the upcoming recall election.
On Friday, Tribal Council member Aaron Tobey Jr. said he planned to file a complaint and request for injunctive relief with Tribal Court, saying the election committee exceeded its authority.
Tobey will ask the court to order the committee to schedule the recall election within the next 30 days.
To support the injunction request, Tobey said in his complaint that the recall petitions had been certified as sufficient by the election committee several months ago.
The committee had been slowly moving forward with election plans, providing packets to enrolled tribe members, as well as outlining reasons given by petitioners for the recall and Cromwell and Harris’ responses to the accusations.
Meanwhile, efforts to stop the recall, which was to be the tribe’s first such election, have been ongoing ever since the signatures on the petition were certified in April.
That includes a great deal of pressure from the tribal chairman himself to squelch the election, according to Tobey.
“Cedric Cromwell has done everything he could to stop the recall, and he has a large political machine,” Tobey said.
Cromwell could not be reached for comment.
Trish Keliinui, tribe spokeswoman and a member of the election committee, said the cancellation was “based on the language of the Aug. 22 court case.” She said she could not elaborate beyond that.
The case, filed by Tobey in May against the election committee chairman and dismissed by Tribal District Court Judge Amanda WhiteEagle on Aug. 22, was not related to the recall of Cromwell and Harris, Tobey’s attorney, Jonathan Polloni, said. Instead, he said it pertained to a petition to recall Tribal Council Vice-Chairwoman Jesse “Little Doe” Baird.
Tobey filed the complaint because he believed election committee Chairwoman Rita Lopez had overstepped her authority during her certification of signatures on a recall petition for Baird, Polloni said. Petitioners were short of the 100 signatures needed for a recall on Baird’s petition.
In the Aug. 22 decision, Judge Amanda WhiteEagle said that “the court finds the recall petitions insufficient as presented” and dismissed Tobey’s complaint.
The words “as presented” define the judge’s decision, Tobey said. The documents provided to the court did not contain the full petition with accompanying reasons for the recall, he said.
“It was an error,” Tobey said.
But the petitions to recall Cromwell and Harris were certified by the election committee long ago, Polloni said.
“They didn’t have a problem with them back then, and only have a problem now,” the attorney said of the election committee. “They just endlessly delay.”
“I think if they’re allowed to do this, it will set a dangerous precedent that you can never have a recall election because the election committee can do whatever it wants,” Polloni said.
Cromwell and Harris had been facing multiple allegations from a group of tribe members who accuse the two of malfeasance, or “wrongful conduct,” in connection with issues stemming from, among other things, the more than $500 million owed to the tribe’s financial backer, Genting Malaysia, and decisions to keep Tribal Council Vice Chairwoman Jessie “Little Doe” Baird in power after she resigned Jan. 25.
Cromwell responded to the allegations in a letter addressed to the tribe’s Election Committee dated May 15. In that letter, he denied that charge and noted that Tribal Council voted not to accept Baird’s resignation letter.
″... therefore, there was no vacancy for the Vice Chair position,” Cromwell wrote.
Cromwell also touted the economic growth that took place under his leadership as a result of Genting’s commitment to loan the tribe money to support its programs and services. Genting has since withdrawn its support after writing off its more than $440 million investment in the tribe as a loss in late 2018, forcing rounds of layoffs at the Mashpee Wampanoag headquarters.
Throughout Cromwell’s tenure, critics have attempted to rally tribe members to force open the administration’s books, including its casino records, and to protest the periodic silencing and shunning of members who’ve raised questions about its finances.
Allegations against Mashpee Wampanoag tribal leaders come to head
By Tanner Stening
Posted Sep 8, 2019
Fate of Cromwell, Harris to be determined by Mashpee Wampanoag’s first recall election.
MASHPEE — Members of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe looking to unseat their top executive officers intend to make their case for financial mismanagement at the coming recall election, airing years of grievances that have led to often raucous infighting within a government on the verge of insolvency.
On Sunday, Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Chairman Cedric Cromwell and Treasurer Gordon Harris will face multiple allegations from a group of tribe members who accuse the two of malfeasance, or “wrongful conduct,” in connection with issues stemming from, among other things, the more than $500 million owed to the tribe’s financial backer, Genting Malaysia, and decisions to keep Tribal Council Vice Chairwoman Jessie “Little Doe” Baird in power after she resigned Jan. 25.
The hearing will be the tribe’s first recall election — a process written into the tribe’s constitution triggered by the submission of petitions to remove the officials in question that requires the signatures of 100 or more tribe members. The election would come roughly a week after the Times learned that Harris and his predecessor, Robert Hendricks, were subpoenaed by a federal grand jury, though it is unclear for what reason.
The petitioners also intend to argue that Cromwell has promoted his personal business interests while traveling and acting in his capacity as chairman.
Cromwell responded to the allegations in a letter addressed to the tribe’s Election Committee dated May 15, denying that charge and noting that Tribal Council voted not to accept Baird’s resignation letter.
″... therefore, there was no vacancy for the Vice Chair position,” Cromwell wrote.
He also touted the economic growth that took place under his leadership as a result of Genting’s commitment to loaning the tribe money to support its programs and services. Genting has since withdrawn its support after writing off its more than $440 million investment in the tribe as a loss in late 2018, forcing rounds of layoffs at the Mashpee Wampanoag headquarters.
“During my time as Chairman, the tribe has reached its highest number of employees of 130 despite the recent layoffs,” which, Cromwell says, were “out of the tribe’s hands.”
Petitioners also allege that Cromwell deprived the tribe of up to $500,000 in tribal employment rights ordinance fees. Known as TERO, the ordinances require that employers conducting business on reservations give tribes preference in all manner of employment, contracting and related activities, according to the Council for Tribal Employment Rights website.
Aaron Tobey Jr., a tribal council member and petitioner in the recall effort, said Cromwell’s alleged failure to negotiate and collect TERO funds is in relationship to the tribe’s affordable housing development project off Meetinghouse Road.
“He didn’t impose any fees, and that cost the tribe hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Tobey said in an interview.
Since his rise to power in 2009, Cromwell repeatedly has come under fire for his handling of the tribe’s finances. Factions critical of his administration have called for more transparency, rebuking attempts to raise the salaries of council members, including his own.
Throughout Cromwell’s tenure, those groups have attempted to rally tribe members to force open the administration’s books, including its casino records, and to protest the periodic silencing and shunning of members who’ve raised questions about its finances. Sources said recently that the tribe is operating without a membership-approved budget, and statements of expenses provided by the tribal government show a paucity of funds available for programs and services.
Of the $1.8 million the tribe had spent this year through July, nearly half, or $910,575, went toward salaries and fringe benefits, according to the sources.
According to the affidavit detailing the petitioners’ accusations, the tribe has paid Cromwell more than $1 million since he took office. Ten years later, the tribe has incurred more than $500 million in debt with “very little to show for it; no casino, no jobs,” and a mortgaged property in Taunton, where the tribe’s $1 billion casino-resort would be located, the affidavit says.
In January, Cromwell was temporarily stripped of his fiduciary powers after news surfaced of the $37,000 he and his wife, Cheryl Frye-Cromwell, owe the IRS, and business interests that were subpoenaed during the course of their divorce proceeding. The council has since reversed itself, voting to restore Cromwell’s fiduciary responsibilities and to rescind a vote of no confidence in his leadership.
A robocall that circulated within the tribal community in June alleged that $250 million handled by the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Gaming Authority is unaccounted for. The gaming authority is a five-member board governing the tribe’s long-stalled gaming operation. A 2016 financial audit of the tribe described the entity as a “discretely presented component of the tribe.” During that year, the authority transferred more than $17 million in cash and real estate to tribal operations. Cromwell is the president of the entity; Harris the treasurer.
“To date, we as tribal members do not know how this money is spent,” the robocall said. “Only Chairman Cromwell and Treasurer Gordon Harris have knowledge and access to how our $250 million has been spent.”
Tobey said he has felt the need to speak out against the administration’s handling of its finances to raise awareness within the tribal community.
“Cedric’s more like a shady politician than a tribal leader,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that the only source of objective reporting has to come from newspapers. We have nothing internally from within the tribe to hold them accountable.”
The tribe does have a publication, Mittark, that reports on tribal affairs. Tobey dismissed it as a “feel good” outlet that turns a blind eye to what’s going on within tribal government.
The Mashpee Wampanoag have had to borrow millions of dollars to fight a lawsuit brought by Taunton neighbors of the proposed First Light Casino & Resort. The Department of the Interior in September 2018 reversed a 2015 agency decision under the Obama administration that had taken 321 acres of land in Taunton and Mashpee into trust that effectively created the tribe’s reservation. Millions have been spent lobbying Congress and the Interior Department and fighting two separate legal battles — one contesting the agency’s Sept. 7 ruling and another appealing the ruling in the original suit.