The Mashpee Wampanoag’s new tribal compact with the state is headed to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, where tribal officials have higher hopes in this second attempt for federal approval, moving the tribe closer to building a casino in Taunton.
On Friday morning, Gov. Deval Patrick signed into law a resolve ratifying the tribal compact he signed last March. The House and Senate approved the compact this fall.
“It’s a monumental day, and we’re moving forward,” said Mashpee Chairman Cedric Cromwell, who received the pen used to sign the bill into law.
BIA has 45 days to approve or reject new compact
The Bureau of Indian Affairs, which has 45 days to review the compact, rejected an earlier compact between the tribe and the state last year, because the state was conceding things out of the scope of its authority, such as water and hunting rights.
The tribe is undergoing another federal process to receive land-in-trust, which many have said cannot legally be granted to the Mashpee because they were not a federally recognized tribe before 1934.
The Mashpee have argued that the federal government has been well aware of the tribe dating back to the early days of European settlement, and Cromwell said the land-in-trust application is undergoing an environmental review and he hopes to be able to break ground next year.
Aquinnah Wampanoag asserting right for a casino too
Others are hoping to build gambling complexes in the southeastern region. The Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe asserted this week that they have the right to build a casino on Martha’s Vineyard; the Patrick administration has disputed that claim.
“It’s against Wampanoag tradition for us to speak about Aquinnahs…. or their government in a public way. Certainly their community will know what’s best for them,” said Vice Chairwoman Jessie Little Doe Baird, when asked about the situation.
KG Urban Enterprises, a group of developers seeking to build a casino along the New Bedford waterfront, is suing the state and arguing the 2011 gaming law is discriminatory, favoring Indian tribes.
"Who are they?" asked Mashpee Chair Cromwell.
“Who are they?” Cromwell asked with a smile, when asked about the lawsuit. The Mashpee met the requirements of the 2011 law and won approval from a majority of Taunton voters in a non-binding referendum, but plans to build at an office park along Route 140 have been slowed by federal regulators.
The compact grants the state 21 percent if Taunton is the only licensed casino in the state; 17 percent if no licensed gaming is built in the southeastern region, with a subtraction of 2 percent if a slots parlor goes up in the region and no revenue share if a licensed casino is built in the region.
Aquinnah casino would mean no revenue for state
Martha’s Vineyard falls within the southeast region, however if the Aquinnah’s plans are realized, they might not trigger the zero-percent clause in the Mashpee compact.
After voters in Lakeville and Freetown rejected its casino proposal and Patrick chose to negotiate with the Mashpee, the Aquinnah have not sought to build a casino through the state’s licensing process overseen by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.