Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe still waiting for BIA answer on casino

An artist's rendering of proposed First Light Resort and Casino. Image from Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe

It's been more than two years since Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn, the head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, promised to make a decision on the casino sought by the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe.

In a December 31, 2012, letter to the tribe, Washburn said the tribe's land-into-trust application would be finalized in "early 2013." That deadline has long passed but the tribe has continued to remain positive and has completed other milestones for its $500 million First Light Resort and Casino in the city of Taunton.

The tribe negotiated a Class III gaming compact with the state, which was approved by the BIA. The agency also issued a draft environmental impact statement for the project.

The state, meanwhile, accepted the tribe's final environmental impact report. A certification will be sent to the BIA in hopes of furthering the decision-making in Washington, D.C.

“The Commonwealth’s approval is one more step forward for our proposed destination resort casino in Taunton,” Chairman Cedric Cromwell said in a press release. “This report not only represents the final step in the state's environmental review process, it also affirms the significant economic benefits the project will bring to the region. The approval allows us to accelerate the final design phase of the overall project.”

The tribe submitted its application within months of gaining federal recognition in May 2007. But the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Carcieri v. Salazar threw a wrench in the process because it restricted the land-into-trust process to tribes that were "under federal jurisdiction" as of 1934.

The justices, however, did not define the meaning of "under federal jurisdiction." So the Wampanoags remain hopeful of success since a federal judge has upheld a land-into-trust application that was approved for the recently recognized Cowlitz Tribe in Washington.

The slow-moving nature of the federal process prompted the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to accept bids for a commercial casino in the southeastern part of the state. Five groups are seeking the sole license but there is no guarantee it will be awarded because of the tribe's situation.

In the event a non-Indian facility opens in the region, the tribe will not be required to share any gaming revenues with the state.

Get the Story:
State Approves Environmental Report for Wampanoag’s Taunton Casino (CapeCod.Com 1/30)
5 groups vie for Massachusetts' final casino license (AP 1/30)
Casino contenders ante up for SE Mass license (The New Bedford Standard-Times 1/31)

DOI Solicitor Opinion:
M-37029: The Meaning of "Under Federal Jurisdiction" for Purposes of the Indian Reorganization Act (March 12, 2014)

Federal Register Notice:
Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Proposed Fee-to-Trust Transfer of Property and Subsequent Development of a Resort/Hotel and Ancillary Facilities in the City of Taunton, MA and Tribal Government Facilities in the Town of Mashpee, MA by the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe (September 5, 2014)

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