One of the most vocal opponents to a gaming compact with the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, Rep. Robert Koczera predicts the agreement will clear the House Wednesday, though he plans to make a case against it.
A New Bedford Democrat who wants to clear the path for a casino in the southeast region, Koczera believes advancing the tribe’s aspiration to build a casino in Taunton will cloud the picture, as the Mashpee have yet to obtain the necessary and elusive land-in-trust approval from the federal government.
“It’s not fair that the southeast region would be left out indefinitely while the Indians continually seek to obtain approvals for things that quite frankly have very high hurdles,” Koczera told the News Service. He said, “I also think that to go and give any sense of false hope or a delusion that we’re going to get tribal gaming in the southeast region is to dampen any interest that might be shown by investors in the southeast region.”
First Compact kicked back
After ratifying an initial compact only to see it rejected by the federal government, the House has sat on a revised compact for months while casino applicants bidding for licenses in two other regions advanced through the regulatory process. Gov. Patrick filed the revised compact in March.
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission voted in the spring to open up the southeast region to commercial applicants and recently received a single application from KG Urban Enterprises, which is hoping to build a casino in New Bedford. Bridgewater-developer The Claremont Companies has expressed interest, and any of the 11 gaming applicants for the slots license and casinos in the east and west of the state could apply in the southeast if they fail in regions where they are currently competing.
The Mashpee were the first to arrange a host community agreement and the first to achieve a local vote of approval, though their quest to build Project First Light in a Taunton office park off Route 140 has faced hurdles. In addition to the Bureau of Indian Affairs rejecting an earlier compact, the federal government has yet to sign off on a necessary land in trust request, which would establish a reservation.
Koczera say U.S. Supreme Court case will end Mashpee's quest
Koczera argues that a U.S. Supreme Court decision precludes the Mashpee from achieving land-in-trust because the tribe won official federal recognition in 2007, well after the 1934 cutoff, and there are “powerful interests that do not want to see the law change.”
The Mashpee and its lawyers have argued the tribe was recognized by the federal government, which allowed them to stay put during the 1820s when the government was removing tribes from the Atlantic Coast, and in the early 20th century about a dozen Mashpee students were sent off to an Indian school in Pennsylvania.
Mashpee Chairman Cedric Cromwell has said that even without a compact, if the tribe is granted land-in-trust it will be able to build a casino.
“I think it is pretty simple. I think the main point to make here is that this compact is an insurance policy,” O’Connell told the News Service Tuesday. She said, “Whether or not they get land in trust is not the issue that we’re debating tomorrow.”
New compact's terms
The new compact would provide the state 21 percent of gross gaming revenue as long as there are no other casinos in the state, 17 percent if a casino is established as planned in the east or west, with a 2 percent reduction if a slots parlor is established in the southeast. The compact calls for no money for the state if a casino begins operations in the southeast.
One of the three slots parlor applicants, Raynham Park, is located in the southeast, next to Taunton.
“I’m not going to vote for anything that’s going to say the commonwealth gets zero revenue,” said Koczera.
Legislative leadership determined the compact, filed as a bill by Gov. Deval Patrick on March 27, may not be amended, and Koczera said he will not attempt an amendment, though if he could amend it, he would include a “time certain” for the tribe to complete the other necessary steps.
“This will be a vote where they will go with the flow. I think that’s unfortunate,” said Koczera, predicting passage of the compact.