Federal decision on Mashpee Wampanoag compact expected Thursday
By Marc Larocque
Posted Dec 31, 2013
Taunton city officials and the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe are expecting an affirmative decision on a revised tribal-state gambling compact to be issued by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs within the next few days.
Officials from the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe have said that reaching the state-tribal compact, which was signed by Governor Deval Patrick in November, was a “monumental” step in for the tribe’s plan to build a casino in Taunton.
However, representatives for the tribe declined to comment further on Tuesday until the Bureau of Indians Affairs makes its decision. A spokesman from the Bureau of Indian Affairs said on Tuesday that the decision is still under review.
Essentially, the state-tribal compact is only one hurdle the Mashpee tribe is facing in its efforts to create a destination casino at the interchange of routes 24 and 140 in Taunton. The big question remains whether or not the tribe can get federal land-in-trust approval for the 146-acre site in Taunton.
Taunton Mayor Thomas Hoye Jr. said he hasn’t heard news yet of potential federal approval for the state-tribal compact, but added that, “It’s supposed to be very soon.”
Hoye said he believes that the revised state compact should be approved, given that the state, the tribe and the Bureau of Indian Affairs worked together to remedy problems that the federal government had with the first proposed agreement.
“I know the state vetted it with the BIA," he said. "They felt, both the state and the tribe felt strongly that the second edition would be approved by the BIA.”
A source working with the tribe said that they expect the decision to be announced on Thursday.
The proposed compact is the second reached between Massachusetts and the tribe, after the first deal was rejected in 2012 because the Department of the Interior determined that the agreement was not in the tribe’s best interest.
The new proposed compact calls for the Mashpee tribe to pay the state 17 percent of casino revenue. But if a slots parlor opens in southeastern Massachusetts, the revenue share would drop to 15 percent.
Under the terms of the original, then rejected deal, the Mashpee would have paid the state 21.5 percent to the state, with no protection from slots, but with a 15 percent cut instead if another resort casino opened in southeastern Massachusetts.
Under the new revised state-tribal compact agreement, if a commercial casino were to open in southeastern Massachusetts in addition to the proposed Mashpee casino, the tribal casino would pay the state nothing. In the unlikely event that a tribal casino opens, and there are no commercial casinos anywhere in the state, the Mashpee would pay the state 21 percent of casino revenue.
The Department also previously took issue with unrelated concessions, such as aboriginal fishing rights, being included in the casino agreement.
Opponents of the Mashpee tribe’s efforts point to a 2009 Supreme Court decision on Carcieri v. Salazar, which involved the Narragansett Tribe in Rhode Island, saying that the ruling from the case makes it impossible for the Mashpee to meet the requirements to attain sovereign land. The ruling said that the federal government was limited from holding land in trust on behalf of tribes that were not federally recognized after 1934.
The Mashpee tribe earned federal recognition in 2007. But representatives of the tribe have argued that they were under federal jurisdiction prior to 1934, and should qualify as applicants for land-in-trust.