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Politics & Government
Wed May 15, 2013
Taunton Casino Faces Legislative Scrutiny
Of all the casino proposals in Massachusetts, the one getting the most scrutiny is in Taunton.
That's where the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe plans to build a $550 million casino complex. But it's also facing federal, and now state, hurdles.
Tribe Chairman Cedric Cromwell says the current agreement with the state is good for the tribe and for Massachusetts citizens.
"The tribal state compact protects and honors the tribal rights while also protecting the citizens of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts," Cromwell said. "So instead of competing with the commonwealth, let's collaborate. Let's create something very important in southeastern Massachusetts."
Both sides thought they had that important deal. But the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs rejected it. So the tribe and the state agreed to lower the state's take from the casino, from 21 percent down to 17 percent.
At a legislative hearing, lawmakers demanded assurances that the revised compact would pass federal approval.
Gov. Deval Patrick's deputy legal counsel, Nick Martinelli, urged lawmakers to ratify the compact and act quickly.
"The commonwealth’s interest and the tribe’s interest are aligned right now, and that’s not necessarily always going to be the case," he said. "So we have an agreement we think is good for both sides. The circumstances could change over time. The tribe could have its land taken into trust, the gaming commission could move forward with a commercial casino. That would change leverage on both sides."
This week, the tribe ramped up its public campaign by showing off new casino designs to the Taunton City Council. Architectural drawings are one thing, but more important could be the anticipated 2,500 permanent jobs and $80 million in annual payroll the casino would generate.
The tribe thought it had an exclusive path to be southeastern Massachusetts' only casino, but the state Gaming Commission has voted to allow commercial developers to bid, too. That's because the tribe faces legal hurdles securing the land in Taunton.
Cromwell says the tribe is making great progress, and even without the state approval of the compact, it intends to move forward with a casino in Taunton.
If the state doesn't approve the compact, the tribe says it will keep all the revenue it makes.