Meetings & Information


Friday, January 3, 2014

Taunton tribal casino compact approved

Taunton tribal casino compact approved
By Gerry Tuoti
Posted Jan 03, 2014

The casino compact between the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe and the state of Massachusetts has now taken effect, tribal leadership said Friday.

“This is a very exciting day for the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, the city of Taunton and the commonwealth of Massachusetts,” tribal chairman Cedric Cromwell said Friday.

The tribe, he said, received confirmation from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs that the compact is deemed approved.

The development comes more than a year after the BIA rejected a previous compact.

The agreement outlines the terms of operation for the tribe’s proposed Taunton casino and includes provisions for the state to collect payments from the tribe in lieu of taxes. If the state approves a commercial casino in southeastern Massachusetts, however, the tribe would not have to share any of its casino revenue.

Thursday was the last day of the federal statutory review period of the compact. Any compact that is not affirmatively approved or rejected within the review period is deemed approved to the extent that it complies with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, according to information provided by a government source familiar with the process.

Obtaining land sovereignty remains a potentially bigger hurdle on the Mashpee’s path to a tribal casino.

Under the compact, the Mashpee would pay the state 21 percent of casino revenue if there are no commercial casinos anywhere in Massachusetts, or 17 percent if the proposed tribal casino is the only gambling facility in southeastern Massachusetts. The state’s share would drop to 15 percent if a slots parlor open in the region.

If another casino opens in southeastern Massachusetts, the state would collect nothing from the proposed tribal casino.

“Now that the compact has essentially been given an OK, I would hope the Gaming Commission would be very cautious about moving forward with any commercial license in southeastern Massachusetts, because we could end up losing out on millions of dollars of gaming revenues if they guess wrong,” state Sen. Marc Pacheco, D-Taunton, said.

The state’s expanded gambling law opens the door for up to three commercial casinos and one slots parlor to open statewide. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission initially held off on accepting applications for a commercial casino in the southeastern region in order to give the Mashpee a chance to make progress on their federal land application without regional competition from commercial entities.

Amid concerns that the tribe was stalling out in the federal process, however, the Gaming Commission voted last year to accept commercial casino applications in southeastern Massachusetts, but stopped short of saying it would award a commercial license in the region. The commissioners said they would examine a number of factors, including the tribe’s progress, before deciding whether to award a commercial license in the region, which includes Bristol and Plymouth counties, Cape Cod and the islands.

The compact is just one of many components of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe’s pursuit of a casino in East Taunton. The most significant remaining obstacle facing the tribe is obtaining sovereign land.

The tribe, which currently holds no reservation land, has submitted a land-in-trust application with the federal Department of the Interior.

“I think its another step in the right direction,” said Taunton Mayor Thomas Hoye Jr., who in 2012 signed a separate mitigation agreement with the tribe on behalf of the city. “Now the question becomes, ‘When will land be taken into trust for the project to come to fruition?’ Hopefully in the near future we’ll get some indication.”

A 2009 Supreme Court ruling, however, raises questions about the authority of the Department of the Interior to take land in trust for tribe’s that were not under federal jurisdiction prior to the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act. The Mashpee achieved official federal recognition in 2007, but argue that they had been under a form of federal jurisdiction for centuries.

A tribal casino cannot be built under federal law without an affirmative land-in-trust designation.

Unlike commercial casinos, a federal casino is approved through a federal process and is not subject to state licensure.

Last year, the Department of the Interior rejected a previous version of the compact on grounds that the revenue share was disproportionate to the concessions the state made to the tribe. The previous compact did not contain a scenario under which the tribe would pay no revenue in the event that it lost exclusivity in the southeastern Massachusetts casino market.

In rejecting the first compact, the Department of the Interior also took issue with the state’s attempt to use concessions unrelated to gambling, such as tribal fishing rights, as leverage.

The new compact, according to state and tribal officials, was negotiated with assistance from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

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