The Senate, by voice vote and without debate, approved a tribal gaming compact Thursday. The compact was negotiated by Gov. Deval Patrick with the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, which plans to build a resort casino in Taunton and is pursuing federal approval of its land in trust application.
The compact early this month passed the House, where it encountered opposition from critics who predicted the land in trust efforts may drag on and leave the southeastern region without a casino for years. The compact calls for the tribe to return 17 percent of gaming revenue to the state if it is one of two or three casinos in Massachusetts, 21 percent if it is the only casino in Massachusetts and zero percent if a private casino is licensed in the southeast region, as defined by the 2011 expanded gaming legislation.
The federal government rejected the first compact between the tribe and Patrick after it was ratified by the Legislature. Rep. Joseph Wagner (D-Chicopee) and Sen. Gale Candaras (D-Wilbraham), chairs of the committee that reviewed the compacts, predicted this month that the revised compact will win federal approval.
The compact was negotiated between the Patrick administration and tribal leadership and signed in March after the federal government rejected an initial deal. The compact languished for months before the House voted 115-38 in October to approve the deal, which sets the parameters for how much casino revenue the tribe will share with the state in exchange for one of the three resort casino licenses.
In order to build the casino, which has been approved by the voters of Taunton, the tribe must still win approval for its land in trust application pending with the federal government. While tribe officials have expressed confidence they can successfully navigate the complex federal process, compact opponents worry the land in trust efforts may drag on and leave the southeastern region without a casino for years.
The compact calls for the tribe to return 17 percent of gaming revenue to the state if it is one of two or three casinos in Massachusetts, 21 percent if it is the only casino in Massachusetts and zero percent if a private casino is licensed in the southeast region, as defined by the 2011 expanded gaming legislation.
Voters in East Boston and Palmer on Tuesday rejected proposed casino developments and the tribe's casino proposal remains one of a dwindling pool of active projects.
Since the 2011 law passed, voters in Freetown, Lakeville, Salisbury, Tewksbury, and West Springfield have rejected gambling plans. In the face of local opposition, a casino planned for Foxborough and a slot parlor targeted for Boxborough both failed before reaching town-wide votes.
A commercial developer hopes to build a casino in New Bedford, which is in the southeast, although a host community agreement is not in place there so city voters have not entertained a referendum. The Gaming Commission has also not yet indicated how long it will wait for the tribe to go through the federal regulatory process before awarding the southeast license to a commercial developer.
“I think it’s very difficult for us when we were writing the legislation to say, ‘Okay, you have until this and this date otherwise you’re out of the picture.’ That’s a call that they have to make based upon the investigation that they do and what’s going on in Washington,” House Speaker Robert DeLeo said on Thursday, deferring to the Gaming Commission’s discretion on the likelihood that the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe will obtain federal land for the casino.
Barry Gosin, principal of KG Urban Enterprises, said last month that the company’s casino plan in New Bedford would “turn an environmentally-contaminated waterfront site into a revitalized tourist destination in a city and region that are in dire need of jobs and enhanced economic activity.”
Gosin knocked Gov. Deval Patrick and the Legislature, saying they “seem determined to eliminate commercial competition in the Southeast by passing a compact that will give the Commonwealth absolutely nothing - a zero percentage share of the revenue from a Mashpee casino that the law does not presently allow, and which would therefore not open for decades, if ever."
Patrick and others worry that giving the license to a commercial developer could open up the possibility for a fourth casino in Massachusetts if the tribe eventually wins land in trust.
The Mashpee tribe, which is partnering with gambling giant Genting, says its Project First Light will deliver at least $2.1 billion in revenue to the state over 20 years, and provide more than $300 million to the southeastern Massachusetts region for transportation, education, tourism and funding for surrounding communities. The tribe estimates its casino will create 1,000 construction jobs, more than 2,650 permanent jobs, and an $80 million annual payroll.
An MGM casino planned for Springfield is the lone casino project remaining under consideration in the western Massachusetts region, although Mohegan Sun is asking for a recount of the vote in Palmer on Tuesday where the developer’s proposal fell short by less than 100 votes.
In the eastern Massachusetts region, casino projects remain under consideration in Everett and Milford, with Suffolk Downs weighing a potential, eleventh hour move to its Revere property after East Boston voters rejected the track’s casino plan on Tuesday.
The state’s two-year-old expanded gambling law calls for one slot parlor license and the Massachusetts Gaming Commission is considering proposals based in Plainville, Leominster and Raynham, which is located in the southeast region not far from the proposed tribal casino in Taunton.
The Senate on Thursday is also expected to take a final vote to approve a $1.4 billion affordable housing bond bill.