Mass Gaming and Entertainment — a venture led by Chicago real-estate and casino mogul Neil Bluhm that wants to build a casino in Brockton, Massachusetts — has become the third-biggest spender on outside lobbyists in the Bay State. That’s according to disclosure reports newly released by the state and viewed by The Boston Globe.
MG&E spent $430,000 on lobbyists in 2018 in a bid to convince state officials to reopen the question of a “region C” casino license in Massachusetts, the third and final region that was authorized to host a casino when residents voted to legalize gaming in 2011. In 2017, the group spent a paltry $10,500.
MG&E is a joint venture between Bluhm’s Rush Street Gaming and property owner George Carney, who runs the betting parlor at the former Raynham Park dog track, near Brockton.
The group is likely to have raised the stakes on Beacon Hill because its main impediment to a casino a region-C casino, the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, has suffered a reversal of fortune and its vision of a $1 billion resort 20 miles away in Taunton lies shattered.
No ‘Wow Factor’
Bluhm’s outfit was the sole bidder for the license in 2016 but was rejected by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) by 4-1 on the grounds that its proposal was “not a destination casino” but a “convenience casino” and that it lacked creativity and “wow factor.”
The commission subsequently put the region C license on the back burner because, in 2016, the Mashpee project appeared to be coming to fruition. The US Department of the Interior had taken land into trust for the tribe — a prerequisite for a tribal casino — and the Mashpee had secured financial backing from Malaysian casino giant Genting.
The tribe largely had local support for its proposal, as well as the backing of then US Secretary of State and US Senator for Massachusetts, John Kerry.
As a tribal casino project — and it would be Massachusetts’ first — the MGC had no say in its approval and feared it would decimate the revenues of any commercial casino in region C, harming future tax revenues for the state.
Bluhm Financed Legal Challenge
But a group of disgruntled local homeowners — bankrolled by Bluhm — brought legal action against the Mashpee and successfully argued the DOI had improperly granted land to the tribe.
The group’s lawyers cited a 2009 US Supreme Court ruling known as the Carcieri Decision, which held that the federal government can only take land into trust for tribes that were federally recognized at the time of the enactment of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. The Mashpee were only formally recognized in 2007.
The Trump administration agreed with the court and reversed the Obama-era decision, throwing the entire project into jeopardy.
MG&C wants to strike while the iron is hot and has petitioned the MGC to revisit the region C issue. But the regulator may be unwilling to act until all avenues open to the Mashpee are exhausted. A group of Massachusetts Democrats has introduced a bill to Congress that would restore the Mashpee’s lands and put the tribal casino back on track.