Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe in limbo after decision on casino site

Artist's rendering of the First Light Resort and Casino in Taunton, Massachusetts. Image from Steelman Partners / Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe of Massachusetts had hoped to open a long-awaited casino in the summer of 2017 but plans are on hold due to litigation.

Work stopped on the First Light Resort and Casino after a federal judge on July 28 ruled that the Bureau of Indian Affairs should not have approved the land-into-trust application for the site. Now it's anyone's guess as to what might happen next.

“We’ve been talking about getting a casino in this region for more than 25 years, and all of a sudden we’re the region that doesn’t have anything,” Christopher Cooney, the chief executive of the Metro South Chamber of Commerce, told The Boston Globe. “It’s extremely frustrating.”

The tribe has since filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit, known as Littlefield v. Department of the Interior, and the Obama administration has asked the judge to reconsider the ruling in the case. As of Tuesday morning, no rulings have been issued on those requests.

The dispute arose as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Carcieri v. Salazar. In that case, the justices ruled that the BIA can only place land into trust for tribes that were "under federal jurisdiction" as of 1934.

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

The Mashpees didn't gain formal recognition until 2007 so casino opponents don't believe the tribe qualifies for the land-into-trust process. In his July 28 ruling, Judge William G. Young agreed but did not say what should happen, if anything, to the casino site in the city of Taunton.

The case is the second of its kind to emerge in the post-Carciera era. The first involves the Cowlitz Tribe of Washington and The Boston Globe notes that the outcome in that lawsuit was different.

On July 29 -- a day after Young issued his ruling -- the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the BIA did the right thing by approving a land-into-trust application for the Cowlitz Tribe in Washington. Observers believe the decision will have an impact on the Mashpee case.

“The two rulings are inconsistent, and that gives the Mashpee a chance to get a reversal,” attorney Dennis Whittlesey, who is not involved in either case, told The Globe.

Read More on the Story:
With the Mashpee casino in legal tangle, uncertainty reigns (The Boston Globe 9/13)
Second ruling gives Mashpee new hope (The Boston Globe 9/3)

Court Decisions:
District Court of Massachusetts: Littlefield v. Department of the Interior (July 28, 2016)
D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals: Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon v. Jewell (July 29, 2016)

Supreme Court Decision in Carcieri v. Salazar:
Syllabus | Opinion [Thomas] | Concurrence [Breyer] | Dissent [Stevens] | Concurrence/Dissent [Souter]

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

Join the Conversation

Related Stories
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe awaits word on role in casino lawsuit (08/31)
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe hails bid to reconsider casino ruling (08/25)
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe in high stakes fight for casino and land (08/22)
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe files motion to join casino land dispute (8/16)
Opinion: Court decisions appear in conflict on tribal gaming rights (8/15)
Indian law experts debate outcomes in two land-into-trust cases (8/4)
Two tribes see conflicting rulings in long-running quests for casinos (8/2)
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe continues work on casino despite ruling (8/1)
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe sees setback in land-into-trust dispute (7/29)
Obama administration backs Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe casino bid (07/08)
Judge focuses on Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe casino decision (06/30)
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe casino foes lose big source of funding (6/28)
Judge schedules trial in Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe casino case (6/21)
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe not worried about anti-casino lawsuit (05/31)
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe sees large turnout for casino job fair (05/16)
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe invites all to casino job and vendor fair (5/10)
Mashpee Wampanaog Tribe overcomes hurdles with casino plan (5/2)
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe welcomes rejection of rival casino bid (4/28)
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe disputes rival's casino market study (4/26)
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe awaits decision on rival casino plan (4/20)
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe to host job and vendor fair for casino (04/13)
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe moves full steam ahead with casino (4/12)