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Mass. Gov Signs Gaming Bill; Mashpee Wampanoags Cheer

The Mashpee Wampanoag tribal government will soon be able to conduct casino gaming in the Bay State and use the revenues to provide services for its citizens.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick signed a bill today, November 22, to allow up to three resort style casinos and one slots parlor to be licensed in the state. One of the licenses is slated for a federally acknowledged tribe, which is almost certainly the Cape Cod-based Mashpee Wampanoag since its sister tribe, the Aquinnah Wampanoag on Martha’s Vineyard may have a gaming prohibition in its land settlement agreement. The state’s casino license bids start at $85 million and the slot parlor bids start at $25 million. The bill provides 25 percent of casino revenue and 40 percent of slot revenue for state and city taxes.

Patrick’s signature on the bill, which was approved a week ago by majority votes in the Massachusetts House and Senate, closes the book on a years-long and often contentious debate over the fate of casino gaming in the Bay State where the original gaming-averse Pilgrims landed in 1620. Ironically, it took the Mashpee Wampanoags, whose ancestors were the first to meet and greet the settler-colonists back in the day, 387 years to become a federally-acknowledged tribe in 2007.

Cedric Cromwell, chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, lauded the governor’s action. “Governor Patrick’s action today has brought us a giant step closer to our goal of bringing a destination resort casino to southeastern Massachusetts. The jobs, revenue and increased tourism that we will bring to this part of the state are badly needed and we can’t wait to get started,” Cromwell said.

The bill Patrick signed includes special carve-outs for a tribal government casino. The bill:

Provides $5 million for the governor to negotiate a tribal-state gaming compact with a federally recognized tribe that must be approved by the legislature.

Requires the tribe to have entered into an agreement to purchase a land for gaming and requires a scheduled vote with the host community

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Requires disclosure of financial investment rights of any individual or entity that has invested in the tribe since 2005.

Sets a July 31, 2012 deadline for compact negotiations. If there’s no compact by then and the state gaming commission determines the tribe won’t have land into trust, the commission can seek bids from other developers in the southeastern Massachusetts area.

Gives the tribe membership on a 15-member gaming advisory panel that will consider gambling policy and create subcommittees to examine community mitigation, compulsive gambling and impacts on cultural facilities and tourism.

The Mashpee Wampanoag nation is virtually landless. An application for an initial reservation and trust land await decisions from the Department of the Interior, whose processing of trust land applications has been stymied for almost three years by an ill-advised U.S. Supreme Court ruling that denied the Interior Secretary’s authority to take land into trust for tribes that were not “under federal jurisdiction” in 1934 when the Indian Reorganization Act passed. Consequently, the tribe does not have casino land under agreement yet. Previous land proposals at two sites fell through and the tribe has been searching for land in Southeastern Massachusetts. But Cromwell told Cape Cod Online he’s not worried about the aggressive timeline.

Massachusetts may end up with two tribally owned casino resorts. The Mohegan Tribe of Connecticut is hoping to win one of the remaining two licenses to operate a commercial casino in Palmer in western Massachusetts modeled on its wildly successful Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut. Mass Live reported that Palmer officials are negotiating with Clyde W. Barrow, director of the Center for Policy Analysis at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, to conduct an expansive study to determine the various impacts a resort casino development would have on the town.

In a recent study, Barrow found that Massachusetts residents patronizing New England's casinos and slot parlors collectively generated more tax revenues to Connecticut, Rhode Island and Maine state governments combined than did the residents of any other state. In 2010, Massachusetts’ residents spent more than $857 million on gaming and non-gaming expenditures at Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut, at Twin River and Newport Grand slot parlors in Rhode Island, and at Maine's Hollywood Slots facility. Bay Staters spent more than $613 million on gaming and non-gaming expenditures at Connecticut's destination resort casinos; more than $243 million at Rhode Island's two slot parlors; and nearly $700,000 at Maine's slot parlor. "Massachusetts exports gaming-related spending, tax revenues, jobs and tourism into other New England states, and those state governments utilize that revenue to fund state and local services, teachers' salaries, and to grow tourism – all at a direct cost and threat to the commonwealth's own fiscal and economic growth."

With the passage of the gaming law, gaming proponents are hoping that revenue will fill the Bay State’s coffers and provide thousands of new jobs for state residents.