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Massachusetts Moves A Step Closer To First Indian Casino


      Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick will give final approval today to a formal casino agreement with the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe.  The compact gives Massachusetts a lucrative cut of casino revenues and commits the state to help overcome the obstacles that could prevent construction of what would be the state’s first Native American resort casino.  WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports.

       A signing ceremony is scheduled Monday afternoon in Governor Patrick’s statehouse office, where Patrick and Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Chairman Cedric Cromwell will sign a casino compact.  It promises the state 21.5 percent of the gambling revenue from the casino the Native American tribe proposes to build in Taunton.

       Clyde Barrow, director of the Center for Policy Analysis at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, and an expert in the casino business, says the  compact between Massachusetts and the Mashpee Wampanoag is historic

       The tribe has proposed a $500 million resort casino on 146 acres of land  just off a  highway interchange.  The complex would include three 300 room hotels, retail shops, a conference center  and a water-theme park.  According to a filing on the project’s environmental impact, the tribe projects total revenue to be $511.8 million a year.  There was no breakdown of how much would come strictly from gaming.

       The 2011 state casino law, that allows up to three resort casinos in three distinct geographic  regions  gave a federally recognized  Indian Tribe  the first crack at building a  casino in the southeastern region.  The compact being signed today is a big step forward, but the project is still on shaky ground. Barrow says the land for the casino has to be put into tribal land-in-trust, by the federal government.

       A  US Supreme Court ruling would  seem  to stymie the Mashpee Wampanoag’s bid to get  land-in-trust for a casino.  The court said in order to be eligible, tribes must have been federally recognized before 1934. The Mashpee Wampanoag was not recognized until 2007.

       But tribal historians plan to argue prior land ownership in the region and  an ancestry that greeted  the colonists from the Mayflower.

       State Senator  Gale Candaras,  co-chair of the legislature’s joint economic development committee, which held a hearing on the compact before the House and Senate voted  last week to ratify it, says the agreement commits the state to advocate for the tribe with the US. Department of Interior on the land issue.

       The casino compact the Mashpee Wampanoag’s have agreed to, may have the tribe  giving too much to the state to win federal approval in the opinion of some native casino experts, interviewed by the Boston Globe.

       A separate agreement between the tribe and  Taunton calls for the city to receive an initial payment of  $1.5 million and then annual payments of 2.05 percent of electronic gaming revenue, but no less than $8 million per year.  The agreement also calls for unspecified payments in lieu of property taxes and the casino developer will pay for infrastructure improvements.

       Cezar Froelich, whose Chicago based law firm was recently hired by the mayor of Springfield as his casino consultant, negotiated with the tribe on behalf of the Taunton

       Voters in Taunton approved the agreement in a referendum in June, marking the first time voters in Massachusetts approved a casino in a binding referendum.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.