Rhode Island Dems Oppose Bill to Rescue Massachusetts Tribal Casino

Posted on: September 23, 2018, 08:00h. 

Last updated on: September 21, 2018, 09:53h.

A federal bill that would reaffirm the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe of Massachusetts’ reservation — and therefore its right to build a $1 billion casino in — will face opposition not just from a Republican-controlled Congress, but also from Democrats in Rhode Island.

US Rep. David Cicilline has asserted Rhode Island’s opposition to a bill that would safeguard sovereign lands for the Mashpee tribe of Massachusetts. The tribe’s ambition to build a casino within striking distance of Rhode Island has been torpedoed by the DOI. (Image: AP)

The bill seeks to reaffirm a 2015 Department of Interior decision that took 321 acres into trust for the Mashpee, later declaring the land as the tribe’s sovereign reservation. Following a successful legal challenge to the tribe’s plans to build a casino on the land by an out-of-state casino developer, the DOI reversed the decision. This not only nixed the tribe’s casino ambitions but also its claim to self-governance.

The bill is sponsored by a group of Massachusetts Democrats, including US Representative Bill Keating and US Sen. Ed Markey. Keating told the Boston Globe last week there was hope for the long-shot legislation because “in what is often a sea of discord, I have key Republican sponsors.”

Rhode Island Protects Its Tax Dollars

But what he failed to mention is there is discord in his own ranks — from the entire Rhode Island Democratic delegation. Rhode Island’s casinos are the third-biggest source of tax revenue in the state and its legislators are anxious to protect them from competition.

According to The Cape Cod Times this week, US Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) has joined Rhode Island Sens. Jack Reed, Sheldon Whitehouse and the state’s Democratic Governor, Gina Raimondo, in openly opposing the bill.

Cicilline has sent a letter to every member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, which held a hearing on the bill over the summer. The letters are signed by Raimondo and declare her opposition to the bill.

‘Slap in the Face’

“It makes perfect sense,” Professor Clyde Barrow, chairman of the Department of Political Science at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

The (Mashpee tribe) are proposing a casino in Taunton; that’s a pretty close drive to ;Rhode Island’s] Lincoln casino, and even closer to the Tiverton casino, and both facilities get about 50 percent of their customers from Massachusetts,” he told The Cape Cod Times.

Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Chairman Cedric Cromwell said Rhode Island’s stance was “power politics at its ugliest,” and “a slap in the face to all tribal nations.”

Barrow believes that in the unlikely event the bill is passed by Congress, there’s a strong chance President Trump will refuse to sign it, given his long history of opposing Indian gaming. That it’s co-sponsored by his political enemy, Senator Elizabeth Warren, is unlikely to help matters.