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Mashpee’s Gaming Ordinance Wins NIGC Approval

Negotiations on Tribal-State Gaming Compact Also Move Forward

The National Indian Gaming Commission has approved the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s gaming ordinance.

The tribe requested review and approval of a Class II and Class III ordinance in March. On June 4, the Tribal Council amended two sections of the Ordinance to bring it into full compliance with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) and the next day, NIGC Chairwoman Tracie Stevens approved the document in a letter to Mashpee Chairman Cedric Cromwell. “The Ordinance as amended is consistent with the requirements of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and the NIGC’s implementiang regulations and accordingly, is approved.”

The NIGC approval comes just a week after the Bureau of Indian Affairs announced it is reviewing of the tribe’s land-into-trust application. These tribe plans to build a $500 million destination resort casino on around 146 acres of land the tribe has under option in an industrial part in Taunton, Massachusetts. The plan includes a Class III gaming facility, a hotel, parking structures, restaurants, retail stores and other facilities.

In other good news for the tribe, Massachusetts Gov. Duval Patrick told Wicked Local that negotiations for a tribal-state gaming compact are on track to meet the July 31 deadline put in place last November when in the legislature’s gaming bill that allows three resort casinos and one slot parlor to be developed in the state. The bill carved out a provision for one Indian resort casino. Under the bill, the Legislature must ratify a gaming compact by July 31 or the Gaming Commission that was also established by the bill can solicit bids for a commercial gaming license in southeastern Massachusetts. “We will finish the negotiations in time, and we’re trying to finish it early enough for the Legislature to have time to act on it before they go out of session. I think the conversations have been going very well. I’m regularly briefed and I should get updated again this week,” Patrick said.

Cromwell and Taunton Mayor Tome Hoye signed an intergovernmental agreement (IGA)—another requirement of the gaming bill—in mid-May. The IGA will go to a referendum for voter approval on Saturday, June 9.

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The NIGC’s approval of the tribe’s gaming ordinance “is another major step forward in our efforts to bring jobs and revenue to our Tribe, the City of Taunton, and the Commonwealth through the development of a first-class destination resort casino in Taunton,” Cromwell said. . “This, along with the approval of an Intergovernmental Agreement with the City of Taunton, movement forward on our land in trust application by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and continuing productive negotiations on our Compact with the Commonwealth, shows the positive progress we have moving toward our goals.”

But few Indian nations ever get to build a casino without some push back from the community. Accordingly, on June 6 the Herald News reported that a group of Taunton residents opposed to the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s proposed casino on the industrial park land has retained an attorney and is considering filing a legal challenge to stop the casino from being built.

The group’s attorney, Lesley Rich claims that selling the land to Mashpee for a casino would violate the established land-use restrictions on the industrial park acreage, which is owned and managed by the Taunton Development Corp, the report said. Rich also said any such transaction should be subject to public bidding laws.

“That’s just not the way it works,” Rich said, according to the Herald News. “You can’t sell land when you know it’s going to be used for something improper, knowing it’s going to be for a use that’s not approved … The community had developed a scheme to have this land earmarked as industrial and put on these deed restrictions. They have to go through a formal process to change that. They need to get the approval of all existing land owners in the industrial park.”

Taunton City Solicitor Jason Buffington called Rich’s contention “groundless and baseless.” “In my mind, this is little more than an attempt to influence the upcoming referendum, as opposed to some substantive legal action,” Buffington said. Buffington said the deed restrictions, which he’s reviewed, “clearly state the Taunton Development Corp. has the ability, the full power, to waive the restrictions. “

It’s not clear if the group is anti-casino or anti-Indian casino. Cromwell declined to comment on the group’s activities.

Related: Mashpee's Land-Into-Trust Under BIA Review