The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and the governor of Massachusetts signed a revised tribal-state gaming compact on November 15, one of the last few steps before the tribe can begin work on its proposed $500 million Project First Light resort casino in the southeastern corner of the state.
Mashpee Chairman Cedric Cromwell, Vice Chairwoman Jessie “Little Doe” Baird, Chief Vernon “Silent Drum” Lopez, and members of the tribal council joined Governor Deval Patrick at the State House in Boston for a signing ceremony sealing the tribal-state agreement for the tribe’s economic development project in the City of Taunton.
“This is an important and meaningful milestone for our Project First Light destination resort casino,” Cromwell said in a prepared statement. “We have been working steadily and with due diligence to ensure that this development project will deliver economic stimulus to the city of Taunton and the region, as well as to the Commonwealth and the tribal community.”
The document now goes to the Bureau of Indian Affairs where Interior Department Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn has 45 days to consider and act on it. Washburn rejected an earlier compact a year ago, saying it unfairly gave the state too much money and unwarranted authority over tribal matters, threatening the tribe’s sovereignty.
The Mashpee’s resort casino project has moved quickly toward realization in the past few months. On October 15, the Massachusetts House of Representatives approved the revised agreement in a landslide vote of 116-38. That approval was followed by another major milestone November 7 when the state Senate approved the revised tribal-state gaming compact.
Meanwhile, on October 23, the U.S. Department of the Interior approved the federal Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the tribe’s land-in-trust application. The tribe, which has no reservation or trust lands, has asked Interior to take into trust as an initial reservation 145 acres for the proposed Project First Light resort casino in Taunton and 170 acres in 11 parcels Mashpee on Cape Cod. Both sites are currently held in fee, meaning the land can be conveyed to whomever the owner pleases. Once Interior takes land into trust for a tribe, the land is inalienable and cannot be conveyed. In February 2012, Interior issued a preliminary approval designating these lands as an initial reservation.
The approval of the DEIS is a critical step in the federal government’s review and processing of land applications for Native tribes. The report includes a complete and comprehensive analysis of the proposed land uses of the resort casino site and the Cape Cod parcels. It examines the anticipated uses of the properties, their impacts and the proposed mitigation measures under consideration. The DEIS found no significant negative impacts to either site under the proposed uses. Relevant sections of the DEIS are available here and here. The publication of the DEIS in the Federal Register will be followed by a public comment period and hearings leading to a Final Environmental Impact Statement.
Taunton Mayor Thomas Hoye, weighed in on the compact signing last Friday. “I am pleased that the Legislature approved – and that the Governor has signed – the Compact between the Commonwealth and the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe,” Hoye said. “Project First Light will provide much needed employment opportunities to the people of Taunton, as well as the residents of Southeastern Massachusetts. This compact is essentially a job creation bill, which will help our region's struggling families gain sustainability in this difficult economy.” Hoye added that he is hopeful that the Bureau of Indian Affairs will approve the compact.
The City of Taunton, Mass., is an old industrial city that has been hard hit by de-industrialization and the recession. Project First Light is expected to create 1,000 construction jobs, more than 2,650 permanent jobs, and an $80 million annual payroll. The $500 million project will include a 150,000-square-foot casino; hotels with 300 rooms apiece; 3,000 slot machines, 150 tables and 40 poker tables; and an events center.
The new compact gives the state 21 percent of gross gaming revenue as long as the tribe’s casino is the only one operating in the state. When a commercial facility opens in one of the other two gaming regions approved by the legislature two years ago, the state’s share of revenue from the Mashpee casino will fall to 17 percent. The state’s revenue share will be reduced by an additional 2 percent to 15 percent if a slot parlor opens in the southeast region of the state.