The Bureau of Indian Affairs on May 30 indicated that it is gathering information on an environmental impact assessment for 146 acres in Taunton, Massachusetts, that the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe has applied to put into federal trust for a 0 million casino. The federal government in 2007 recognized the tribe, whose ancestors greeted the Pilgrims when they landed at Plymouth Rock.
At the same time, the National Indian Gaming Commission has approved of the tribe’s gaming ordinance and the establishment of a three-member gaming commission, another step towards approving a casino.
Recently the tribe and the town signed an intergovernmental agreement on the $500 million casino, hotel, restaurants and retail the tribe proposes to build. As part of the pact, the tribe will pay $33 million up front and at least $13 million each year, plus 2.05 percent of slot revenue. It will also make payments in lieu of the property taxes it will lose from the land becoming sovereign territory.
Mashpee Chairman Cedric Cromwell hailed the BIA’s action. “This is a significant step by the BIA, since it demonstrates a move forward in taking the tribe’s lands into federal trust, including for gaming purposes,” he said in a press release. “This initial reservation will allow our tribe to fulfill our duty to provide services to our nation, including housing, health care, education, job training, cultural preservation and more in Mashpee.”
Several opponents of the casino proposal have hired an attorney and intend to sue on the grounds that the land the tribe proposes to build on is deed-restricted. They say the land can only be used for an industrial park.
Meanwhile, Governor Deval Patrick’s office says that it is moving forward in negotiating a compact with the Mashpees. Patrick expects to have a compact signed in time to meet the July 31 deadline state law imposes for guaranteeing the tribe a license.
The Wampanoag Tribe of Aquinnah is also bidding for the one license set aside for a federally recognized tribe in the Southeastern casino zone of the state, but has not been as productive as the Mashpees. The Aquinnah, based in Martha’s Vineyard, last month lost advisory votes by overwhelming majorities in Freetown (3-1 against) and Lakeville (10-1 against).
The tribe owns 500 acres, part of which is in Freetown and the other part in Lakeville. It proposes to build a $167 million, 145,000-square-foot casino with 2,700 slot machines, 36 gaming tables and a 150-room hotel.
The votes were non-binding, and the tribe claims that it can legally put its casino in whatever town it chooses as long as it is able to put the land into federal trust. “The Aquinnah Tribe has the right under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act to develop and operate an entertainment and gaming facility. The tribe is prepared to pursue its rights in court, if necessary,” Aquinnah Chairman Cheryl Andrews-Maltais said in a statement.
She said she thinks voters might not have understood the proposal. “If you asked two people what you’re voting on, I’m not sure you’d get the same answer. It’s time to take an assessment of what kind of message we want to put out there,” she said, according to the Boston Globe.