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Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe wins support for casino

Residents in a Massachusetts town overwhelmingly voted in favor of a casino agreement with the Mashpee Wampanaog Tribe on Saturday.

The 2,387 to 1,335 vote in Middleboro came just two months after the tribe's federal recognition became final. It took the tribe more than 25 years to complete the Bureau of Indian Affairs process.

"This has been a long journey for the Mashpee tribe, but it has been well worth the effort," the tribe said in a statement after the vote.

Despite the quick action, the tribe has more work ahead. Class III gaming is not legal in Massachusetts and the tribe must negotiate a compact with the state to offer slot machines, card games and related games.

Gov. Deval Patrick (D) has formed a task force to study the pros and cons of gaming. The group has completed its report but Patrick won't announce his stance until Labor Day in September.

"Middleboro is a long way off from a casino," the governor said in a statement to a local newspaper.

The tribe also needs to overcome another BIA hurdle. It could take anywhere from several months to several years to complete the land-into-trust process before gaming of any sort can occur in the town.

With local support, the tribe stands a better chance at having its land in Middleboro placed in trust. The location of the proposed casino -- less than 50 miles from the tribe's headquarters in Mashpee -- also helps. Both factors are considered by the BIA.

But the process is by no means easy. Other newly recognized tribes have endured lengthy delays and court fights in order to acquire land for casino development under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988.

IGRA bans gaming on land acquired after 1988. But it allows newly recognized tribes to create an "initial" reservation, where gaming can take place.

As a newly recognized tribe, the Mashpees qualify for this exception, found in Section 20 of the law. A developer who bankrolled the tribe's federal recognition petition has helped buy 350 acres in Middleboro.

"Congress's primary purpose in enacting IGRA is evident as well from the inclusion of several exceptions to the gaming prohibition on after-acquired lands in order to allow newly acknowledged or restored tribes to engage in gaming on par with other tribes," the influential D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals said in a July 3 decision involving a newly-recognized Michigan tribe.

The Mashpees have not submitted a land-into-trust application but they face some uncertainty because the BIA is in the middle of drafting regulations for the Section 20 process. Depending on the timing of the submission, the tribe could fall under current policies, which are not as stringent as the rules being proposed.

The proposed regulations, for example, require a "majority" of the tribe's members to live within 50 miles of the land being taken into trust. Though most Mashpee live in another county, the tribe has said it meets this requirement. The proposed rules also state the tribe must have "historical and cultural ties" to the land.

The casino agreement allows the tribe to acquire more land in Middleboro in fee status. But any future land-into-trust applications must be negotiated to address impacts on the town.

The tribe has agreed to make payments in lieu of property taxes on its property up until gaming or other commercial development takes place. When that happens, the tribe will share an estimated $11 million a year in gaming revenues, plus a four-percent tax on hotels and lodging.

The tribe agreed to pay any future taxes, such as meals or sales taxes, on goods told to non-Indians. Excise and personal property taxes are excluded.

The agreement also commits the tribe to $250 million in infrastructure improvements and to pay the town for municipal services. The tribe has indicated it will seek state and federal government to offset some of the infrastructure costs.

Mashpee Casino Agreement:
Intergovernmental Agreement (July 2007)

Recent Court Decision:
CETAC v. Kempthorne (July 3, 2007)

Relevant Documents:
DOI Final Determination | Summary of Acknowledgment Cases | R. Lee Fleming Declaration

Only on Indianz.Com:
Federal Recognition Database V2.0 (May 2005)

Relevant Links:
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe -