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

Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe in limbo as gaming industry advances in Massachusetts

As the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe sits in limbo before the Trump administration, non-Indian gaming interests continue to make strides in Massachusetts.

MGM Resorts is opening a $960 million commercial casino in the western part of the state in August. On the eastern side, Wynn Resorts is on track to open its $2.5 billion development in June 2019, The Associated Press reports.

The southeastern region is where the tribe was supposed to open the First Light Resort and Casino a year ago. Litigation, however, stalled the project and the Trump administration has yet to make a key decision on the matter.

The delay has a non-Indian rival seeking to revive its dreams. According to news reports, a billionaire developer has asked the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, a state agency, to reconsider its casino application.

“MG&E and its principal owner, Rush Street Gaming LLC, are eager and ready to help reverse the course for the southeast region,” the firm told the agency, The Boston Globe reported. Rush Street is owned by by Neil Bluhm, whose net worth is $3.3 billion, according to Forbes.

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

The commission had denied Mass Gaming and Entertainment's $677 million casino in the southeastern region more than two years ago. The tribe praised the decision at the time, noting that it preserves a regional exclusivity provision in its Class III gaming compact.

If the state ever approves a full-scale casino in the southeast, the tribe won't be required to share any revenues under the compact. The agreement otherwise requires up to 21 percent to go to the state, though it drops to 17 percent once MGM Springfield opens in a couple of months.

But with First Light in limbo at the executive branch, the tribe has turned to Congress for help. The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act (H.R.5244 | S.2628) would confirm that the casino site is in trust and require the dismissal of the pending litigation in federal court.

The bill --- which has the support of every member of the Massachusetts congressional delegation except one -- is patterned after the Gun Lake Trust Land Reaffirmation Act. That law was the subject of Patchak v. Zinke, in which the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the power of Congress to protect tribal homelands from litigation.

Despite the progress being made by non-Indian interests, the Wynn Boston Harbor has been tainted by the sexual misconduct scandal of former chief executive Steve Wynn. The Mohegan Tribe has asked a state judge to withdraw the license that had been awarded by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, The Boston Herald reported.

“The gaming commission’s failure to uncover the allegations of Steve Wynn’s reprehensible conduct and the lack of corporate controls in its initial investigation of Wynn Resorts is another example of the bias and flaws in the commission’s approach to the Region A licensing decision,” a tribal attorney said in a statement to the paper.

The Mohegans had sought the license for Region A, which encompasses the eastern part of the state, but lost out to Wynn Resorts in 2014. The tribe operates the Mohegan Sun casino in neighboring Connecticut and is pursuing a new casino there in order to counteract competition from Massachusetts.

Incidentally, that project too is in limbo thanks to the Trump administration. Top political officials refused to let the Bureau of Indian Affairs publish a notice of the tribe's Class III gaming compact in the Federal Register for unknown reasons.

But after more than 10 months of delay, the notice was published on June 1. There was no explanation in the document for the long wait.

The BIA, however, has yet to publish notice of a separate agreement with the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, the other partner in the new casino. Without that document, the tribes are unable to move forward in Connecticut -- the state law that authorized the development requires publication in the Federal Register.

Read More on the Story:
Mohegan Sun goes after Wynn deal (The Boston Globe May 31, 2018)
Company renews bid to open a Brockton casino (The Boston Globe June 7, 2018)
Brockton group to roll the dice again on city casino (The Brockton Enterprise June 8, 2018)
On MGM Springfield's casino floor, these people will be the eyes and ears of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MassLive June 10, 2018)

Patchak v. Zinke

U.S. Supreme Court Decision in Patchak v. Zinke:
Syllabus | Judgment [Thomas] | Concurrence [Breyer] | Concurrence [Ginsburg] | Concurrence [Sotomayor] | Dissent [Roberts] | Full Document: Patchak v. Zinke

More U.S. Supreme Court Documents:
Oral Argument Transcript | Docket Sheet No. 16-498 | Questions Presented

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