Meetings & Information


Monday, August 1, 2016

Judge in Taunton casino case: 'This is not a close call'

Judge in Taunton casino case: 'This is not a close call'

By Rebecca Hyman

Posted Jul. 28, 2016 at 7:59 PM
Updated Jul 29, 2016 at 10:33 AM 

TAUNTON – In a major blow to Taunton casino supporters, a U.S. District Court judge Thursday ruled that the federal government overstepped its authority when it took land into trust for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe.
“[Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell] lacked the authority to acquire land in trust for the Mashpees,” Judge William G. Young wrote in his 22-page ruling siding with a group of East Taunton residents opposed to construction of the tribal casino in their neighborhood.
Taunton Mayor Tom Hoye Thursday called the “adverse” ruling disappointing but said he fully expects the secretary of the interior to appeal the decision.
“The overwhelming majority of Taunton’s voters approved this project, and this decision certainly does not in any way benefit our City,” Hoye said.
“The City, along with the Tribe will explore all of our options and we remain hopeful that the project will ultimately go forward, so that the City, its residents and our region can reap economic opportunity from Project First Light.”
Bureau of Indian Affairs spokesman Nedra Darling declined to discuss the court judgment or the bureau’s next steps.
“This is a matter of pending litigation and as such we are unable to comment,” she said in an email Thursday.
At issue in the case, the judge said, is whether the Mashpees legally qualify as “Indians” as defined by the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. If not, the Bureau of Indian Affairs would lack the authority to take land into trust on their behalf, according to the judge’s ruling.
The judge said the “plain meaning” of the law is that the Mashpees would have had to have been recognized by the federal government at the time the law was enacted in 1934 for the Bureau to have the authority to take land into trust on their behalf.
The tribe was officially recognized in 2007 by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
“With respect, this is not a close call: to find ambiguity here would be to find it everywhere,” Young wrote in his ruling.
The tribe broke ground on the Taunton casino in April.
Adam Bond, co-counsel for the residents who challenged the land-into-trust decision in the case known as Littlefield et al vs. U.S. Department of Interior, said the land is no longer in trust effective immediately, as he reads the ruling.
“It stops them from being able to game on the property,” Bond said.
That doesn’t necessarily mean construction must halt, Bond said. But if the ruling stands, whatever is built there can’t be a casino where gaming takes place.

And the tribe would first have to go back and complete all the usual construction permitting processes with the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals, he said.
“I guess the tribe could go in and apply, but they would have to play by the same rules as anyone else,” Bond said.
A spokesman for the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe said Thursday afternoon tribal leaders were meeting with their legal counsel and would likely be issuing a statement in response to the judge’s ruling at some point Thursday. No statement had been issued as of press time.
The defendants in the case have 60 days to appeal, Bond said. The appeal would be to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston.
The only appeal after that would be to the U.S. Supreme Court, Bond said.
Bond said he is confident the Supreme Court would rule against the Bureau of Indian Affairs. If the Bureau loses in the First Circuit, he doesn’t think the Supreme Court would even take the case, he said.
“All ties go to the agency. But this isn’t a tie. This is a rout,” Bond said.
“This is not about statutory interpretation. It’s about reading comprehension,” Bond said.
The court judgment represents the latest plot twist in the Massachusetts Gaming Commission’s implementation of the 2011 law that legalized expanded gambling in the Bay State.
As the commission licensed commercial casinos elsewhere in the state, it held off on issuing a license in the Southeastern region, giving the tribe an opportunity to secure the federal approvals needed to build a tribal casino in Taunton under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
Under federal law, a tribal casino can only be built on a tribe’s sovereign land. As the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe’s land application languished in the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Gaming Commission eventually opened Southeastern Massachusetts to commercial casino applicants.
The BIA then approved the tribe’s land-into-trust application in September 2015.
The following April, the Gaming Commission declined to grant a license for a Brockton casino to Mass Gaming & Entertainment, the sole remaining commercial applicant in the region.
“The Massachusetts Gaming Commission is reviewing the latest federal court decision in the case of Littlefield et al vs. U.S. Department of Interior,” Gaming Commission spokeswoman Elaine Driscoll said in an email. “Today’s outcome reflects the uncertainties that have long been part of the Commission’s deliberations in Southeastern Mass. At a time deemed appropriate, the Commission will engage in a public discussion to further our review of what course of action will be in the short and long-term best interests of Southeastern Mass and the Commonwealth.”

Young remanded the matter back to the secretary of the interior “for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”
“Thus, the Secretary lacked the authority to acquire land in trust for them, at least under the rationale the Secretary offered in the Record of Decision,” Young writes.
He does not specify any alternative rationales under which the secretary might have that authority.
Wicked Local Regional Newsbank Editor Gerry Tuoti contributed to this report.

Federal ruling deals setback to Mashpee Wampanoags' plans for billion-dollar Taunton casino

By The Associated Press 
on July 28, 2016

BOSTON — A federal ruling has thrown a wrench into plans to build a casino in Taunton.
US District Judge William G. Young ruled Thursday in favor of homeowners seeking to block the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe from building the $1 billion complex.
The Boston Globe reported that Young ruled the US Interior Department "lacked the authority" to designate the land as a Native American reservation.
The department's 2015 decision to place over 300 acres in trust for the benefit of the tribe paved the way for the First Light casino project.
The casino, hotel and entertainment complex broke ground in April, months after a group of local residents filed suit seeking to block it.
Taunton Mayor Thomas Hoye said local voters overwhelmingly approved the project and he hopes the secretary of the interior will appeal the ruling.
An artist's drawing of the $1 billion casino the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe is ... The state's casino gambling law authorized one casino license for the ...

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