$300M Massachusetts Casino Proposal Submitted for Final Category 1 License in Southeastern Part of State

Posted on: August 20, 2019, 09:55h. 

Last updated on: August 20, 2019, 01:33h.

Another Massachusetts casino bid has emerged for the third and final Category 1 gaming license that is earmarked for the southeastern part of the state.

Massachusetts casino MGC Region C
MGC Chair Cathy Judd-Stein’s plate just got fuller after another Massachusetts casino bid came her agency’s way. (Image: Nancy Lane/Boston Herald)

The project comes from real estate and golf course developer Thomas O’Connell and his Notos Group, LLC. The casino complex would be a $300 million-plus investment that, according to a release’s claims, would create more than 1,000 permanent jobs, $50 million in annual state and local tax revenue, and revive the thoroughbred racing industry.

Dubbed Wareham Park, the casino is being proposed for a 275-acre parcel in Wareham, which sits conveniently off interstates 495 and 195, the main arteries to reach Cape Cod.

Specifics on the casino space were minimal, the release stating only that it would be a “multifaceted gaming and entertainment facility with multiple restaurants, electronic gaming, entertainment venues and more.”

Massachusetts lawmakers passed its Expanded Gaming Act in 2011 to authorize three integrated Category 1 casino resorts, plus a Category 2 slots-only facility. MGM Springfield and Encore Boston Harbor respectively represent the Category 1 licenses for Region B and A, and Plainridge Park the Category 2 venue. The Region C permit remains undecided.

O’Connell is reportedly interested in having the state amend the Expanded Gaming Act to allow the Region C license to be a smaller venue than Encore Boston Harbor and MGM Springfield.

Commission Dilemma

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) is holding off on the Region C license due to market saturation concerns that would arise if the state’s Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe wins federal approval to construct a $1 billion integrated casino resort in Taunton.

The complex legal battle involves opposed Taunton citizens, the tribe, and the US Department of the Interior (DOI). All three parties have agreed to find a formal resolution sometime this fall.

The Interior Department initially took 321 acres of land on two parcels into federal trust, but later said it had erred in that decision. The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 says the DOI can only take newly acquired tribal lands into trust for Native American groups that were federally recognized at the time of the law’s passing. The Mashpee people were only federally recognized in 2007.

DC District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer is overseeing the case.

The tribe’s Taunton concept would be just 10 miles from where Wareham Park is being proposed. The MGC feels two casinos in such close vicinity would over-saturate the market.

Wareham Park isn’t the first commercial casino proposal for Region C. The MGC denied Chicago-based Rush Street Gaming’s $677 million plan for the Brockton Fairgrounds in 2016. The company says it remains interested if the Region C licensing process is reopened.

No End in Sight

Even if the tribe loses its federal court case to have the land taken into trust, converting the non-sovereign property into Indian acreage, not all hope is lost for the Native American group. 2020 presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) is backing legislation that would supersede the tribe’s need to obtain DOI approval for the casino and identify the land as sovereign grounds.

President Donald Trump has urged Republican members of Congress to vote against the bill.

The bill passed the House in May, but has yet to receive even a subcommittee assignment in the GOP-controlled Senate.