Non-Indian billionaire slams Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe casino

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

A non-Indian billionaire is trying to stop the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe of Massachusetts from opening a casino in southeastern Massachusetts.

Neil Bluhm, whose net worth was pegged by Forbes at $2.9 billion, is financing a lawsuit that cites the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Carcieri v. Salazar. The complaint in Littlefield v. Department of the Interior argues that the Bureau of Indian Affairs can't place land in trust for the Mashpees because the tribe wasn't "under federal jurisdiction" in 1934.

The Mashpees didn't gain federal recognition until May 2007 but the BIA concluded that the tribe lived on a reservation as of June 1934. Bluhm, however, said that decision flies in the face of the face of the Indian Reorganization Act and the Carcieri ruling.

“You don’t have to be a legal expert to look at the language of that statute, and scratch your head and ask how they came to that conclusion,” Bluhm told the Massachusetts Gaming Commission at a crowded and contentious public hearing on Tuesday, The Brockton Enterprise reported.

Bluhm stands to benefit immensely if it goes against the BIA. His company, Rush Street Gaming, wants to build a $677.5 million casino in Brockton.

Brockton is less than 20 miles from Taunton, where the tribe plans to build the First Light Resort and Casino. A groundbreaking hasn't been announced but Chairman Cedric Cromwell is delivering an update on March 13. He also said the Massachusetts Gaming Commission will be coming to the reservation on March 15.

"Under the terms of the Tribal-State Compact signed by former Governor Deval Patrick and myself in 2013, our Tribe and the Massachusetts Gaming Commission will have a long-term relationship as we move forward with our development plans on our land in Taunton," Cromwell said in a message to tribal members.

The compact requires the tribe to share up to 21 percent of its gaming revenues with the state. But in the event a commercial casino opens southeastern Massachusetts, the rate drops to 0 percent.

The rate dropped to 19 percent after the Plainridge Park Casino, a commercial slot machine facility, opened last summer. It will drop to 17 percent once another commercial casino opens elsewhere in the state. Two casinos have been granted licenses in the western and eastern regions of Massachusetts.

Get the Story:
Brockton officials beg for casino at contentious hearing (The Brockton Enterprise 3/2)
Advocates, opponents meet in Brockton over casino (The Boston Globe 3/2)

Federal Register Notices:
Proclaiming Certain Lands as Reservation for the Mashpee Wampanoag (January 8, 2016)
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)

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

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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