Massachusetts Tribal Casino Odds Improve Under President Biden Administration

Posted on: January 21, 2021, 02:49h. 

Last updated on: January 21, 2021, 03:22h.

A long-delayed tribal casino project in Massachusetts might have better odds of coming to realization under President Joe Biden’s administration.

Massachusetts casino Biden Interior Mashpee
Rep. Deb Haaland, nominee to head the Interior Department, is seen here with then-candidate Joe Biden kneeling playfully at an event in DC. A tribal casino plan in Massachusetts could receive formal approval under her DOI leadership. (Image: Deb 4 Congress)

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe has been fighting for years for legal rights to build a $1 billion integrated resort casino in Taunton. The project, however, has been continually held up in courts.

Maybank, one of the largest financial institutions in Southeast Asia, believes the tribe’s casino ambitions have a better chance with Biden in the White House.

In our view, the Mashpee Wampanoag have a good chance of having their reservation land continue to be held in trust by the DOI,” opined Maybank Investment Bank Research analyst Samuel Yin Shao Yang.

The US Department of the Interior (DOI) has been the driving force behind the legal confusion. Maybank is forecasting more clarity under Biden’s Interior Department.

Native American Ally in DC

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, one of only two federally recognized tribes in Massachusetts, purchased 151 acres of land in Taunton in early 2012. The property is some 40 miles from the Native American group’s sovereign reservation.

The DOI under the Obama administration agreed that the Mashpees had historical ties to Taunton, and took the land into federal trust. The DOI under Trump said the Interior Department had erred, and removed the land in 2018. A federal judge ordered the Interior Department to review its latest decision in June 2020.

Another key issue is whether the Mashpees, a tribe federally recognized after the passage of the Indian Reorganization Act passed in 1934, qualifies to have newly acquired lands placed on the federal registrar.

It’s a complex legal battle. But Maybank believes a Biden administration will, in the end, side with the tribal group. The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe will likely soon have a powerful friend in DC.

Biden’s nominee to head the DOI is Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico). If confirmed by the Senate, which is expected now that the Democrats have control, she will become the first Native American to serve in a presidential cabinet.

“This is great news for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, Indian Country, and the entire planet,” Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Vice Chair Jessie ‘Little Doe’ Bird told during her nomination last month. “We enthusiastically support her nomination and have appreciated her strong support for our Tribe over the years.”

Haaland is a member of the Laguna Pueblo, a federally recognized tribe in her home state.

Genting Reissue Loans

Following the DOI’s first land decision, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe announced its $1 billion project in April of 2016. The development was, at the time, being bankrolled by Genting Group, a Malaysian-based conglomerate.

Genting owns and operates casino resorts in Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, United Kingdom, and the United States. Genting was to issue interest-bearing promissory notes to the Mashpee Tribe in order to finance the so-called First Light Resort & Casino.

Genting was to receive interest between 12 and 18 percent annually on the notes. And for handling the casino’s operations, the company would collect 30 percent of revenues before interest and taxes for seven years.

Maybank’s note that Biden will be good for the First Light project is also good news for Genting.

“If their reservation land continues to be held in trust by the DOI and they are allowed to resume construction … we gather that Genting Malaysia may write back the promissory notes,” Maybank’s Yin explained.