The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe last month cleared a major hurdle in efforts to build a casino in the southeastern section of Massachusetts. The Bureau of Indian Affairs approved a compact (by failing to reject it) recently negotiated between the state and the tribe. The BIA rejected the initial compact, which called for 20 percent of the gross gaming revenue to be paid to the state. The new compact gives the state 17 percent of the revenues if the tribe is the only casino in the southeastern region, and 21 percent if it is the only casino in the state, an unlikely outcome.
Mashpee Chairman Cedric Cromwell called the approval a “monumental, historic day” for the tribe. He said the tribe hopes to break ground this year.
“It’s also great news for the city of Taunton,” Cromwell told the AP. “It advances the tribe’s mission of moving forward with the destination resort casino.”
While the tribe celebrated the approval, it will most likely come as a disappointment to Foxwoods.
The southeastern zone was late coming to the party, because that region of the state was originally set aside for a tribal casino, in an attempt by lawmakers to discourage a fifth casino that wouldn’t have to pay state taxes. A federally recognized tribe is allowed to operate a casino in a state that allows gaming by applying to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
However, the awarding of the license was contingent upon the tribe meeting several requirements in a timely manner, one of them being that it put land into federal trust. It has met its other requirements, including obtaining a gaming compact from the state, and winning an election of Taunton voters. The Bureau of Indian Affairs continues the process of determining whether the land in Taunton is eligible to be put in trust, but approval of the gaming compact by the BIA was crucial.
An additional complication is the possibility that the 2009 Supreme Court ruling in Carcieri v. Salazar would prevent the tribe from putting land into trust. That decision said that tribes recognized after 1934 cannot put land into trust. The Mashpees only achieved federal recognition several years ago.
Because of the tribe’s delays, the commission in April opened the bidding to commercial developers, while not precluding the possibility of eventually awarding the license to the tribe.