Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe aims to start casino work next year

Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Chairman Cedric Cromwell speaks at a press conference in Mashpee, Massachusetts, on September 19, 2015. Photo from Facebook

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe celebrated approval of its land-into-trust application on Saturday, a move that clears the path for the first Indian gaming facility in Massachusetts.

The tribe plans to build the $500 million First Light Resort and Casino on 151 acres in the city of Taunton. Work on the long-delayed project is expected to begin in the spring of 2016.

“We hope to start working on our project by next construction season,” Chairman Cedric Cromwell said during a press conference at tribal headquarters in Mashpee, where another 170 acres are being placed in trust, The Cape Cod Times reported.

The tribe already signed a Class III gaming compact that has been approved by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The deal requires the tribe to share 21 percent of revenues with the state.

However, since the Plainridge Park Casino, a non-Indian slot machine facility, opened in June, the rate automatically dropped to 19 percent. It will drop even further -- to 15 percent -- once another casino opens in the state. That rate is comparable to the ones found in more than 100 compacts that were reviewed by the Government Accountability Office for a recent study of the Indian gaming industry.

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

H.3702, the Massachusetts Expanded Gaming Act, authorizes three casinos -- including the tribe's -- and the slot facility in the Bay State. However, Plainridge is the only gaming venue that's actually opened its doors since the law was passed four years ago this month.

"As a result of this acquisition, the tribe will be positioned to achieve long-term and stable economic development which will provide employment opportunities for tribal members," Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn wrote in a letter to the Chairman Cromwell. "Revenue from economic development will greatly enhance the tribe's ability to provide environmental protection and conservation, increase the public health and safety of its members, and preserve its history and community by funding the preservation and restoration of culturally significant sites. Increased revenue will also enhance educational and cultural programs, and increase services available to tribal members."

Washburn further noted that the land in Mashpee and Taunton will be considered the tribe's initial reservation under the terms of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. A proclamation to that extent is forthcoming.

Massachusetts is also home to the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe, whose reservation is located on the island of Martha's Vineyard. The state, however, contends that the tribe cannot open a casino due to provisions in the Massachusetts Indian Land Claims Settlement Act of 1987 subjects the reservation to state and local laws. The issue is the subject of litigation in federal court.

Get the Story:
Tribal land announcement shakes up casino market (The Sandwich Broadsider 9/21)
Mashpee tribe looks to move quickly on casino plans (The Cape Cod Times 9/20)
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Celebrates Federal Approval of 321 Acres for Reservation (Cape Cod 9/19)
Taunton business leaders eagerly await Mashpee tribe's casino (The Taunton Daily Gazette 9/19)
For Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, a homecoming (The Boston Globe 9/19)
A federal ruling has put the Southeastern Mass. casino license in doubt (The Boston Globe 9/19)
Feds approve land in trust for Mashpee Tribe opening door to Taunton casino (State House News Service 9/19)
Mashpee tribe can build Taunton casino (The Boston Herald 9/19)
Historic decision clears the way for casino (The Cape Cod Times 9/18)
Mashpee tribe reacts to feds' decision paving way for casino (The Cape Cod Times 9/18)
Feds Approve Mashpee Wampanoag Land Into Trust Application; Paves Way for Tribal Casino (Cape Cod 9/18)
Feds clear the way for tribal casino in Taunton (WPRI 9/18)
Massachusetts tribe earns federal land in trust status (AP 9/18)
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe receives approval for Taunton casino (ABC 9/18)
Tribe seeking casino will get 300 acres from U.S. (The Bulletin Leader 9/18)

Relevant Documents:
Chairman Cedric Cromwell Announcement | Mashpee Wampanoag Trbe Press Release | Bureau of Indian Affairs Press Release | Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn Letter to Chairman Cedric Cromwell | Record of Decision | Attachment I - Legal Descriptions | Attachment II - Maps | Attachment III - Mitigation Monitoring and Enforcement Plan | Attachment IV - Response to Comments on the Final Environmental Impact Statement

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)

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

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