Massachusetts Signs New Casino Deal With Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe
BOSTON (AP) — Gov. Deval Patrick is calling for swift ratification by the Legislature of a revised casino compact with the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe that would provide the state with 17 percent of gambling revenues from a proposed tribal casino in Taunton.
Patrick and tribal chairman Cedric Cromwell announced the signing of the compact on Wednesday. It replaces an earlier agreement calling for the tribe to hand over 21.5 percent of gambling proceeds to Massachusetts. The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs rejected the earlier deal, saying the revenue sharing figure was too high and would violate the spirit of an Indian gaming law that says casino profits should primarily benefit a tribe’s members.
The new compact also stipulates that the state would receive no revenue at all from the Mashpee if another casino operated by a commercial developer were to open in southeastern Massachusetts.
The state’s gaming commission has scheduled a hearing for Thursday as it considers whether to open the region to commercial bidders. The state’s 2011 expanded gambling law gave preference in the region to a federally-recognized Indian tribe, but also authorized the commission to open the process to commercial developers if it concluded that a tribe was unlikely to get the necessary approvals to go forward with a casino.
“We are pleased to see this next step in expanded gaming take place and I urge the Legislature to ratify the agreement quickly,” Patrick said. “A gaming facility will bring needed jobs and economic opportunity to the region.”
The Bureau of Indian Affairs must also sign off on the new compact within 45 days. Patrick has said that he “vetted” key details with federal officials, an indication that he believes the revised compact will pass muster with the agency.
The deal includes other changes from the earlier compact. For example, it drops a provision that would have offered the tribe assistance in securing new hunting and fishing rights, which the bureau had said fell outside the scope of gaming issues.
The revised compact would also run for a term of 20 years, as opposed to the 15-year term of the earlier agreement.
Mashpee tribal chairman Cedric Cromwell said he believed the new compact, which was approved Tuesday night by the tribal council, would get the backing of the federal government.
“We look forward to breaking ground in the next year on a development that will bring thousands of jobs and significant economic benefits to our tribe, the people of Taunton and the entire Southeastern Massachusetts region,” Cromwell said.
Under the agreement, Massachusetts would receive 17 percent of the tribe’s gaming revenues if the casino winds up being the only gambling facility in the southeast region.
If a slots parlor were to open in the region, the revenue sharing agreement would drop to 15 percent. Two of the four bidders for the sole slots parlor license allowed under the state law are also in the southeastern part of the state.
But if the gaming commission were to approve a commercial license in the region — and the Mashpee were still able to build a casino outside of the state-approved process — the tribe would not be required to hand over any of its gambling profits to Massachusetts.
In the unlikely possibility that no other resort casinos are built in Massachusetts, the revenue-sharing figure would rise to 21 percent. The state law allows for up to three regional casinos.
The tribe still faces other legal and regulatory hurdles before it can begin construction, including a requirement that the federal government take the Taunton land into trust.
Some lawmakers from southeastern Massachusetts have been pushing the gaming commission to allow commercial developers to bid for the regional license. They say the region could fall behind other parts of the state in casino development and lose out on jobs and economic development if the tribe encounters further delays.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.