There are apparently two ways to build a casino in Massachusetts. First, you can get a town to show some interest in your proposal, negotiate agreements with that community (and all of the ones that surround it), win a vote there, get approval from state regulators, and then hope to win your regional license in a battle with any other proposals that have made it that far in your portion of the state.
Alternatively, you can just assert your rights as a Native American tribe.
Thumbs Up from the Bureau
The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe has received approval from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, which decided that it was okay to proceed with plans based on the current compact between the tribe and the state of Massachusetts. Previously, the Bureau had rejected a version of the compact that gave the state too high a percentage of the revenues from any casino the tribe built – a provision that would have violated the spirit of the agreements that allow American Indian tribes to build casinos, which are designed to benefit members of those tribes first and foremost.
The new compact is now set in stone, as it has already been approved by state lawmakers and signed by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. The compact details exactly how the Mashpee tribe can build a casino, and what specifically the state would get out of the deal.
Most importantly, it spells out just how much of the casino’s revenue would go to the state. In this case, the deal will increase the percentage of revenue that goes to the state, based on how few casinos are built by mainstream operators in Massachusetts. If such a casino were to be built in the southeastern Massachusetts region, the tribe would not have to share any of its gambling revenues.
Taxes Would Vary Based on Competition
If a casino ends up not being built in that region – which is still a possibility – the state would then get 17 percent of all gambling revenue from the Mashpee casino. In the event that no casinos are built anywhere in the state – which seems like much more of a long shot, as there are several casino proposals vying for various licenses – then the state would get 21 percent of the tribe’s gaming revenues.
While the de facto approval of the compact was a big win for the tribe, there’s still one large hurdle to overcome. The Mashpee must still secure land-in-trust approval for the proposed casino, which they hope to build in the city of Taunton. However, tribal chairman Cedric Cromwell (there’s a good Indian name) says he feels confident that this will occur.
“We’re moving forward,” Cromwell said. “We’re hoping to put a shovel in the ground this year.”
The most likely scenario would see the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe operate the only casino in the southeastern region. This is due to a provision in the state’s gaming laws that gives first preference in that region to the tribe. The Massachusetts Gambling Commission has said that they will only consider commercial casino applicants in the region if things fall through for the Mashpee casino proposal.
It’s possible that the tribe could also face competition from the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe on Martha’s Vineyard, which announced in November that the Bureau of Indian Affairs had approved them to open a small casino in that resort area. However, the state of Massachusetts says that the tribe gave up their rights to open gambling facilities in a settlement reached in the 1980s, and the state has already filed a lawsuit in an attempt to stop the tribe from proceeding.