Massachusetts governor strikes casino deal with tribe
Boston - Gov. Deval Patrick's administration announced a tentative casino compact Wednesday with the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, a key requirement in the tribe's bid to develop a $500 million resort casino in Taunton.
The agreement calls for the state to receive 21.5 percent of gambling revenues from the tribal casino, a figure lower than the 25 percent tax that would be assessed on a commercial casino built in the state.
The compact also would give Massachusetts authorities jurisdiction over any crimes or gambling violations committed at the tribal casino.
The compact was also approved Wednesday by the Mashpee Wampanoag tribal council. It still needs to be passed by the state Legislature before a July 31 deadline set under the state's new casino law.
The law allows up to three resort casinos in the state but gives exclusive rights to a federally recognized Indian tribe in the southeastern Massachusetts region if the deadline is met.
Even with the compact, the Mashpee still would face other obstacles, including a requirement that the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs place the Taunton land into trust, a process that could take two years or longer.
Patrick, in a written statement, called the compact a "good deal" for all involved. He thanked the tribe for negotiating in good faith.
The compact "balances the interests of the Commonwealth with the inherent rights of the people of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe," Patrick said in the statement. "If this Compact is approved, it will allow the Mashpee Wampanoag to open a unique facility that is governed and regulated by the tribe itself, in partnership with the state."
The agreement would establish a Tribal Gaming Commission as the primary regulatory body for the casino. But that panel would be subject to oversight by the five-member Massachusetts Gaming Commission created under the state gambling law.
Administration officials noted that the Mashpee, as a sovereign nation, was not subject to the provisions of the state law and that the state made concessions in exchange for the tribe's willingness to follow guidelines consistent with the policies and procedures spelled out under the law.
Tribal Chairman Cedric Cromwell said the compact is a "monumental step" forward for the Cape Cod-based tribe.
"Our destination resort casino will enable our tribal government to move toward economic self-sufficiency and the ability to fully provide for the needs of our Tribe," Cromwell said in a statement.
Officials said while Massachusetts did not have authority to impose the full 25 percent tax on tribal casino revenues, the 21.5 percent "revenue allocation" under the compact is a reasonable result of the negotiations.
The tribe also agreed to ban smoking in the casino.
Massachusetts agreed in the compact - which if given final approval would run for 15 years - to advocate for approval of federal land-in-trust and to support a separate trust application for land in the town of Mashpee.
The proposed 150,000-square-foot casino would be on 146 acres at an industrial park at the junction of Routes 24 and 140. The tribe already has reached an agreement with Taunton that calls for about $33 million in upfront payments to the city and minimum annual payments of $13 million after the casino begins operations.
Taunton voters approved the proposal in a nonbinding referendum on June 9.
Tony LaCourse, head of the anti-casino group Preserve Taunton's Future, said he was not surprised by the compact agreement and predicted the tribe faces an uphill battle.
"It's not over yet. The simple fact is that they still have to get the land into trust which is the big issue anyway," LaCourse said.