Genting, Mashpee Tribe’s $1B First Light Casino Project Comes Back from the Dead

Posted on: December 17, 2021, 08:38h. 

Last updated on: December 17, 2021, 10:16h.

The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe of Massachusetts says it still expects to complete its proposed $1 billion First Light casino in the City of Taunton. And Malaysian gaming giant Genting is still on board with the project.

Mashpee casino
The Mashpee broke ground on the First Light project in April 2016, pictured. But it has been an empty construction site ever since. (Image: Elise Amendola/AP)

That’s despite catastrophic legal setbacks, and then, finally, a breakthrough when a federal court last year overturned a Department of Interior decision to strip the tribe of its land and sovereignty.

The plan to resume the project emerged during conversations between the tribe’s lawyer, Rebekah Salguero, and the city’s chief lawyer, David Gay, according to reports from The Taunton Daily Gazette.

Gay said he had also met with tribal officials and Genting representatives who confirmed they were still working together on the development.

Legal Wrecking Ball

The tribe broke ground on the project back in 2016, months after the Obama administration took 321 acres of land in Taunton and Mashpee into trust as the tribe’s sovereign reservation. This was a precursor for the tribe to organize gaming under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

But a legal challenge brought by a group of Taunton residents and bankrolled by casino magnate Neil Bluhm blew the project off course.

In late 2016, US District Judge William Young determined that the Obama administration had erred. Citing a 2009 Supreme Court judgment known as the Carcieri Decision, Young ruled land could not be taken into trust for tribes that were federally recognized after the enactment of the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) of 1934. The Mashpee were recognized in 2007.

The Trump administration agreed and determined that the Mashpee’s reservation should be disestablished, stripping the tribe of sovereignty and preventing the casino project from moving forward.

Suddenly the Mashpee found themselves in financial disarray and apparently hundreds of millions in debt to Genting, which was assumed to have abandoned the casino project.

However, a Genting executive told in 2019 that this was not the case. He said he still believed the project could and would happen.

Meanwhile, the tribe’s longstanding chairman, Cedric Cromwell, was removed from office and faces federal charges of bribery and tax evasion.

‘Contrary to Law’

In June 2020, US District Judge Paul Friedman determined that the 2016 decision was “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and contrary to law.”

The Interior Department appealed the ruling. But this February, the new Biden administration withdrew the appeal.

Theoretically, at least, the casino was back on, although the tribe’s new chair, Brian Moskwetah Weeden, told reporters in June he wasn’t so sure.

“Casinos are just the easiest thing for tribes to go at. However, what’s supposed to be easy has been very challenging for our tribe and our people. So I think it’s best to just reassess everything and see what the community wants to do,” he said.

“The community needs to heal, and I think that one of the problems of our former leadership was the disconnect with them, and not listening to the people,” he added.