As if the gaming industry in Massachusetts weren’t already very complicated, a decision by the Department of the Interior to grant land-into-trust status to 300 acres in the state to the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe has definitely thrown a monkey wrench into the system.
The original law that allowed casinos in Massachusetts approved three zones and a single racino. The racino was a straightforward choice, with Penn National Gaming already opening a Hollywood Casino at Plainridge Racecourse. MGM Resorts won the right to build a casino in western Massachusetts in Springfield after beating back Mohegan Sun and Hard Rock International.
Wynn Resorts won the Boston-area casino after a long and convoluted fight with Caesars Entertainment and later with Mohegan Sun. And the final casino in the southeast region was initially reserved for the Wampanoag tribe, but delays in federal approvals spurred the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to open up the bidding to commercial casino companies.
In September, in a surprisingly quick decision, the BIA granted reservation status to the Wampanoags that will allow it to build a casino in Taunton. Tribal Chairman Cedric Cromwell called it “truly a glorious, monumental day” for the tribe, which only became a federally recognized tribe in 2007 but can trace its history back at least 12,000 years.
“Today, history has come full-circle,” Cromwell said in a statement. “While some outside the tribe will focus only on our quest to build a destination resort casino in Taunton, for us this goes far beyond economic development. This is about controlling our own destiny and preserving our ancient culture.”
The tribe has committed to contributing 17 percent of its gross gaming revenue to the state (versus 25 percent for commercial casinos), but if a commercial casino is also approved in Region C (the final available license), the tribe pays nothing and the commercial casino pays 25 percent.
Rush Street Gaming is the only bidder left for a commercial casino in the zone. Rush Street subsidiary Mass Gaming proposes a $650 million casino resort on the Brockton fairgrounds.