Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe gaming site officially put in trust

A sign touts the benefits of the First Light Resort and Casino in Taunton, Massachusetts. Photo from Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe / Facebook

As of today, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe of Massachusetts has a recognized land base.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs last Friday approved the tribe's land-into-trust application for 151 acres in the city of Taunton. That's where the $500 million First Light Resort and Casino will be located.

But rather than give the public 30 days to dispute the acquisition, the land will "immediately" be placed in trust, the BIA said in a notice published in today's issue of the Federal Register. The move falls in line with a regulation finalized in November 2013 that was developed in response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Salazar v. Patchak.

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

In the case, the justices held that opponents can sue the BIA ever after a land-into-trust decision has been finalized. As a result, a 30-day "waiting period" that was first instituted in 1996 has been eliminated.

"This rule provides greater certainty to tribes in their ability to develop lands acquired in trust for purposes such as housing, schools and economic development," Assistant Secretary Washburn said in a press release at the time.

Despite the immediate action taken today, opponents will still be able to sue the BIA. An attorney in Massachusetts is already promising to do that in response to the approval of the land-into-trust application for the casino in Taunton. The acquisition also covers another 170 acres in the town of Mashpee that will be used for governmental and other purposes.

The New England Casino Race: Tribal and commercial gaming facilities in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island

The BIA's decision has prompted a shakeup of sorts in Massachusetts, where gaming regulators are considering whether to award a license for a non-Indian facility in the southeastern part of the state. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission could still move forward on that front but no call was made either way at a public meeting on Thursday,

In the event that a commercial casino opens in the tribe's region, the revenue sharing rate in the Class III gaming compact drops to 0 percent. Already, the rate has dropped from 21 percent to 19 percent with the opening of the Plainridge Park Casino, a non-Indian slot machine facility, in June. Plainridge is less than 20 miles from Taunton.

The rate will drop to 17 percent once a commercial casino opens elsewhere in the state. But that's still a few years away -- MGM Resorts International probably won't open its $800 million casino in Springfield, in western Massachusetts, until September 2018.

Wynn Resorts, a company owned by billionaire Steve Wynn, won the license for a casino in Everett, in the eastern part of the state. The facility has yet to break ground.

Get the Story:
State commission says no dice on casino request (The Cape Cod Times 9/25)
Gaming Commission won't alter application process for Brockton casino developer (The Taunton Daily Gazette 9/25)
Mass. Casino Regulators 'Troubled' By MGM Design Changes In Springfield (The Hartford Courant 9/25)
Gaming Commission ‘Troubled’ By Proposed MGM Casino Redesign (AP 9/24)
Gaming commission will not guarantee a casino license in southeastern Mass. (The Boston Globe 9/24)

An Opinion:
Bruce Mohl: The big Indian gamble (ComonWealth Magazine 9/24)

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 Notices:
Land Acquisitions; Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe (September 25, 2015)
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)
Land Acquisitions: Appeals of Land Acquisition Decisions (November 13, 2013)

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

Related Stories
BIA treads new Carcieri ground in ruling for Massachusetts tribe (9/23)
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe casino ruling stirs shakeup of sorts (9/23)
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe faces lawsuit over gaming project (9/22)
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe aims to start casino work next year (9/21)
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe celebrates land-into-trust decision (9/18)
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe seeks building inspector for casino (09/04)

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