With regulators on the cusp of opening up the southeast region of the state to commercial casino developers, Gov. Deval Patrick and the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe have a "framework" of a compact they plan to show federal officials in the hopes of avoiding another rejection, according to the governor.
"We're in negotiations," Patrick told reporters on Tuesday. "We've got a model we're trying to work through with the tribe, and we have a hope - I think it's either by the end of this week or early next week - to be able to go down to the Bureau of Indian Affairs and show them the framework so that we can get some preliminary feedback from them and we don't go through the process we did the last time of thinking we had a deal that was going to satisfy them. It's hard."
After Patrick and the Legislature approved a gaming compact with the Mashpee that would have sent 21.5 percent of tribal gaming revenues to the state, the BIA rejected the deal, saying the state had no right to offer hunting and fishing rights and other concessions on its end of the deal.
"We're looking at national policy, what the BIA has approved. We're looking at where we're at with gaming in the Commonwealth. We're looking at the meaningful concessions that we can support to get to a revenue-share level that can be supported at a national level at the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and obviously supported at the Legislature-level at the Commonwealth, and also at my tribal council level," Mashpee Chairman Cedric Cromwell told the News Service in January.
The Mashpee are hoping to build a resort casino in a Taunton office park. In December, the Gaming Commission tabled discussion of whether to start the licensure process for other, commercial developers in the southeast region, giving the tribe until March 15 to show progress has been made in securing the necessary land-in-trust agreement from the federal government and on the compact. The commission plans to revisit the discussion at its Thursday, March 21 meeting, the first after the deadline.
The BIA is reviewing the Mashpee's land-in-trust application and learned earlier in February that the Department of the Interior deemed the application "qualified to be processed under the initial reservation exception."
The federal government's rejection of the first gaming compact along with the uncertainty over whether and when the bureau might approve a land-in-trust application motivated some to push for the commission to set a hard deadline for the tribe to have its paperwork in order or open up the southeast to commercial ventures.
The Mashpee have potential rivals in the region. The Aquinnah Wampanoag sought a license under the 2011 gaming law's provision for American Indian tribes, but voters in Freetown and Lakeville rejected the idea for a casino in their towns.
KG Urban Enterprises, which hopes to build a casino along the New Bedford waterfront, has sued the state and named both tribes as "intervener" defendants in an attempt to block a portion of the gaming law that dealt with tribes. KG complained it "contains numerous explicit, race-based set-asides that give federally recognized Indian tribes a categorical advantage over all other applicants in seeking a commercial gaming license in Southeastern Massachusetts."
When the Department of the Interior rejected the original compact, Patrick said it was "deeply disappointing on a number of levels," saying the state had negotiated carefully and in good faith, and said it was "extraordinarily fair to both sides."