Tribe Launches PR Campaign against State Commission’s Commercial Gaming Plan
In 2011, the Massachusetts legislators passed a bill allowing the development of three casinos in three distinct areas of the state, including a tribal casino in the southeastern region. (Read: Massachusetts Lawmakers Approved New Bill To Allow Three State Resort Casinos) But now the Massachusetts Gaming Commission is considering an end run around the lawmakers’ action by opening the southeastern area of the state to commercial gaming, which would violate the exclusivity region of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s proposed $500 million resort casino.
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission, which was created by the 2011 gaming bill, will meet on Thursday, April 18 to vote on whether to accept commercial bids for the southeastern area, known as Region C.
Meanwhile, Mashpee Chairman Cedric Cromwell vows to move forward with the tribe’s planned destination resort casino in the City of Taunton. “We . . . will not be deterred by any action of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission,” Cromwell said. “While we continue to wonder why they (the commissioners) are ignoring the intent of Governor (Deval) Patrick and the Legislature, whatever decision they make regarding opening Region C to commercial bid will not stop us from moving forward.”
It is not clear by what authority, if any, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission can violate the 2011 law that permitted only three casinos in the state, but a decision to do so would likely be challenged in court.
But if the Gaming Commission goes ahead with its plan and allows a commercial casino in Region C, there will be economic consequences, Cromwell said. “In this case, our Tribe will pay no revenue to the state, and according to the state’s own research, will destroy the economic model on which the state based its Expanded Gaming Law. This will cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars.”
The tribe launched a vigorous public relations campaign on April 13, including a video called “Protect Jobs and Revenue in MA” that is being shown during the evening news on television. “The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, who welcomed the Pilgrims and celebrated the first Thanksgiving, has the federal right to build a casino. Gov. Patrick and the legislature passed a law allowing three casinos including one tribal casino in southeastern Massachusetts. The tribe has agreed with Gov. Patrick to share hundreds of millions of dollars which otherwise the state is not entitled to,” a female voice says. The ad goes on to describe the progress the tribe has made toward developing the gaming facility. “Meanwhile, the Gaming Commission, which is accountable to no one, is putting all this progress at risk by disadvantaging the tribe,” the ad says, urging Massachusetts residents to contact the state Gaming Commission. The ad was paid for by the Mashpee Wampanoag’s Tribal Gaming Authority.
Supporters of opening Region C to commercial gaming say that the Mashpee face a long and uncertain road to federal approval for a tribal casino and that the southeastern region is missing out on jobs and economic development, according to the Boston Globe.
But the tribe is moving steadily through the federal process. Last June, for example, the National Indian Gaming Commission approved the tribe’s gaming ordinance. (Read: Mashpee Gaming Ordinance Wins NIGC Approval) The tribe has secured almost 150 acres of land in Taunton, won the support of city residents in a referendum that approved the casino and signed agreements with the city.
Supporters of commercial gaming in Region C also cite the U.S. Supreme Court’s Carcieri http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/07-526.ZS.html ruling to claim the federal government may not take land into trust for the tribe. But on March 20, Interior Department Solicitor Hilary Tompkins wrote to Cromwell assuring him the Mashpee land-into-trust application is the department’s “top priority.” The Carcieri ruling said the Interior Department could take land into trust only for tribes “under federal jurisdiction” in 1934 – but it didn’t define that phrase, Tompkins wrote, so the Department has “utilized its expertise in interpreting and applying the temporal qualification. Since the Carcieri ruling, the Department has taken more than 202,000 acres of land into trust for tribes,” Tomkins wrote.
The tribe is ready to move forward, Cromwell said. “As soon as our land is placed in trust, we are prepared to break ground and provide good jobs to thousands of local people,” he said.