Who's next for class III compact?

This week, we ask the same question posed by British rockers The Who on their 1979 record album. No, it's not "From which state will the next class III compact emerge?" nor "Which tribe will jump into the gaming fray?" but simply, "Who's next?"

Prospects for Indian gaming in Massachusetts got a huge shot in the arm last month in the form of a favorable economic-impact report from a prestigious policy research institute. Its positive outlook could boost a Martha's Vineyard-based tribe's chances to become the third Indian nation to tap into the highly lucrative New England gaming market.

The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development on May 13 published "Public Policy Analysis of Indian Gaming in Massachusetts," subtitled "a report to the Government of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah)." Its conclusion echoes both Indian gaming's rapid recent expansion and the state's budgetary problems; the study found that "the appropriate public policy questions ought to be focused on how gaming proceeds, not whether Massachusetts develops a casino industry."

The Harvard Project, founded in 1987, is part of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Its web site, along with a downloadable version of the study, can be found at www.ksg.harvard.edu/hpaied.

Tribes in neighboring Maine and Rhode Island have proposed casinos of their own, while several in Connecticut seek federal recognition and the compact-negotiating ability it carries. All of these tribes have felt varied levels of state and public opposition. The state legislatures in Bangor and Providence have authorized impact studies of their own, effectively if not intentionally stalling the processes.

The stakes are high, given the region's population density and apparent desire for more gaming opportunities. Despite heavy competition from the region's two established giants, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, New England's next casino could reap a windfall, while the state in which this as-yet-mythical casino appears could end up with a nice chunk of the proceeds in return for a compact.

Several state politicians and a number of localities in Massachusetts have expressed hopes of keeping millions of dollars of gaming monies within their borders as well as a desire to intercept the gaming traffic heading to Connecticut from elsewhere. A slew of players, Indian and non-Indian, has anted up; the Wampanoags, as Massachusetts' only federally recognized tribe, now could well have the upper hand.

The Wampanoags, who first sought recognition in 1977 (and received it in 1989) seek legislation permitting class III gaming within the borders of the Bay State. Under IGRA, tribes are permitted only to offer games of chance legal in the individual states. The tribe has proposed a casino for the southeastern portion of the state's mainland, in either Bristol or Plymouth counties, and has received the backing of the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana, which operates the Paragon Casino Resort in Marksville, La.

Two other Massachusetts tribes, the Nipmuc Nation of Sutton and the Mashpee Wampanoags of Cape Cod, are in the last stages of the BIA process for recognition. Their applications remain pending.

The Massachusetts house has authorized its own gaming impact study, to be completed by Dec. 1. The senate is considering a bill "that would call for a stand-alone Native American-owned and -operated casino with exclusivity provisions in the state," David Nunes told Indian Country Today. Nunes is president of Affiliated Strategies, a Boston-based real estate developer employed by the Wampanoags since early 2000.

By strategically locating a casino in southeastern Massachusetts, the Wampanoags could capture the attention of gamblers in the nearby cities of Boston and Providence, as well as of tourists heading for Cape Cod. Putting such a facility into operation as soon as possible would also steal some thunder from Rhode lsland's Narragansett Tribe, which has been working for a casino for West Warwick, southwest of Providence.

"The Wamapanoag Tribe has every incentive to build as competitive a facility as they can," the Harvard study said. "Indeed, the Tribe is currently proposing a facility on par with Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun ? thus the facility will not just compete on geographic terms , but on the amenities is offers as well."

"What we've been trying to do is replicate the Connecticut experience of Foxwoods," Nunes continued. "That's basically what we're saying to the state. They're looking at all the dollars that fly over the border to Connecticut and Rhode Island right now." Nunes added that Massachusetts faces a 16-percent revenue shortfall projected for its pending budget, and now has "an opportunity to participate with a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes that could mean significant funds to healthcare and seniors and all sorts of other things."

The Project study gives Indian gaming a hearty endorsement as a means to "recapture three-quarters of a billion dollars in out-of-state spending by Massachusetts residents, attract spending by out-of-state residents ? particularly from northern New England ? that currently goes to Connecticut, and develop depressed regions of the [state 's] economy."

The study lauds IGRA's role in providing a framework through which tribal and state governments can work together to resolve regulatory and infrastructure issues. "Because the state can participate through the IGRA compacting process in designing the arrangement under which gaming can proceed, it can minimize the risk to itself that it will bear costs associated with tribal gaming operations," the report said.

The study questions the seemingly widespread belief that greater access to gaming heightens the risk of increased pathological gambling. "At the broadest level, data from two national commission studies show that while wagering revenues increased 1600 percent and the gambling expenditure share of personal income doubled over the last 25 years, there was no appreciable change in the national lifetime gambling pathology rate of about one percent."

Naysayers fear that a casino could hurt the state's highly successful lottery. The Harvard study dismisses such concerns, asserting that consumers don't equate lottery tickets bought at a convenience store with an evening of slots and table games at a casino. Furthermore, the availability of gaming in Connecticut, along with its high patronage by Massachusetts residents, hasn't hurt the latter state's lottery.

Nunes is more direct.

"Massachusetts has the most successful lottery in the world," Nunes claims, adding that this "isn't because the state treasury runs it in the most successful fashion, it's because the people in Massachusetts like to game."

"The Wampanoags and all of us who've been working on the project have done a better job this time around of educating the legislators and other lawmakers on Beacon Hill that 'We're gamblers and there's big gambling in Massachusetts today,'" he said. "Just because there's an imaginary line between Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts doesn't mean we don't [already] have [gambling]."