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Tribes Could Win It All in Massachusetts

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Massachusetts has named the winner of one of the three regional resort-casino licenses up for grabs in the state. But as the process of selecting projects becomes even more convoluted, the two federally recognized tribes in the state could end up being the only viable developers of the potentially highly lucrative gaming facilities.

Commission Awards Region B License

On June 13, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission awarded the Category I resort-casino license for Western Massachusetts (Region B) to MGM Resorts, which plans an $800-million casino in Springfield. Proposals from Mohegan Sun for a project in Palmer and from Hard Rock International, which proposed a resort casino in West Springfield, were out of the running, because they were rejected by voters in local referendums.

Voter Referendum on Gaming Law A Go

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled on June 24 that a casino repeal measure can appear on the November 4 ballot. The referendum would give voters the opportunity to repeal the state's 2011 gaming law, which authorizes the establishment of up to three casinos and one slot parlor. At least two political committees have been raising money for campaigns to sway voters: the Committee to Preserve Jobs Associated with Casino Gaming Law and Repeal the Casino Deal, the group that put the referendum question on the ballot in the first place.

Criteria for Region C Applicants Change Again

Two days later, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission extended the license application deadline for Region C (Southeastern Massachusetts) from September 30 to December 1. Region C was at first pretty much reserved for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe's application. But in 2013, when the BIA rejected tribe's compact with the state for Class III gaming and continued to consider, but not grant, the tribe's land-into-trust application for a site in Taunton, the commission opened up the region to applicants who met specific criteria.

Under those conditions, applicants could include KG Urban, with a plan for New Bedford, and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe's Foxwoods, with potential plans for New Bedford or Fall River. This most recent move opens the application process to an even wider group of applicants. In the meantime, the BIA approved the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe's state-tribal gaming compact in January, but the land-into-trust decision remains in limbo. A decision on the Region C license is tentatively scheduled for September 2015, according to MGC.

Regan Communications

This architectural rendering by Regan Communications, shows a new design for a resort casino that the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe hopes to build in Taunton, Mass. if the tribe wins state and federal approvals for the project.

Case Must Go to Federal Court

U.S. District Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV ruled July 1 that the dispute between the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) and the state over whether the tribe has the right to open an off-reservation resort-casino must be heard by a federal, not a state, court.

RELATED: Court Ruling Paves Way for Martha's Vineyard Casino

City of Boston Denied

On July 2, the MGC denied a request from the City of Boston to suspend all action regarding the Region A license until after the referendum vote. The city had argued that if gaming were repealed it would have wasted millions of dollars negotiating with Mohegan Sun and Wynn in the interim.

Polls on Gaming Mixed

A poll of 400 registered voters conducted by University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Policy Analysis and released on July 1 found that 46 percent would vote to keep the casino law and 41 percent would vote to repeal it. Thirteen percent of respondents were undecided or refused to answer. This poll targeted voters in Region A (Eastern Massachusetts), where Mohegan Sun and Wynn Resorts are competing for the license.

The poll found that 48 percent of respondents favored the $1.3-billion Mohegan Sun proposal for Revere, while only 21 percent preferred the $1.6-billion Wynn Resorts plan for a casino in Everett. The Mohegan Sun developers got more good news on July 10 when Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh signed a Surrounding Community Agreement with the developer. The deal gives the city an estimated $300 million in investments over 15 years. The MGC's revised schedule has the Region A license decision coming at the end of August or beginning of September this year.

A poll by public radio station WBUR found that 56 percent of respondents approved locating casinos in Massachusetts, while 38 percent disapproved. Six percent didn't know, or refused to answer. A Boston Globe poll showed 52 percent would keep the gaming law, while 41 percent want it repealed. On the other hand, a Suffolk University-Boston Herald poll found that 47 percent of voters disapproved of gaming in Massachusetts, 37 percent approved and 15 percent were undecided.

Only Tribes Left Standing?

In Massachusetts, the Category 1 license is for resort-casinos; Category 2 is the one slots-only license. Under IGRA, Class I gaming is social or traditional gambling for prizes of minimal value, Class II gaming is essentially bingo, Class III is everything else. So basically Category 1 in Massachusetts is comparable to Class III in IGRA.

Mohegan Sun is applying for a Category 1 commercial license under the Massachusetts gaming law, while the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) are (or presumably will be) applying for Class III gaming licenses under IGRA.

If Massachusetts voters repeal the 2011 state gaming law in November, the only entities that would be eligible to open casinos in Massachusetts would be those who could do so under IGRA—the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah).