AP News

Mass. gov 'close' to new casino compact with tribe


BOSTON (AP) — Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick said Tuesday he was nearing a revised casino agreement with the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe but planned to run the major elements of the deal by federal officials before submitting it for final approval.

The governor is hoping to avoid a repeat of the events of last year, when a compact he signed with the tribe was approved by the Legislature, only to be rejected later by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The compact was nixed in part because the bureau felt the state was demanding too large a share of the tribe's future gambling revenues.

Patrick said during an impromptu meeting with reporters that he believed his administration was close to finalizing a renegotiated compact with the tribe, which has proposed a $500 million resort casino in Taunton, though he did not provide specifics of what the agreement might include.

"We're in negotiations, we've got the model," Patrick said.

"We're trying to work through with the tribe and we have hope, I think it's either by the end of this week or early next week, to be able to go down to the Bureau of Indian Affairs and show them the framework so that we get some preliminary feedback from them and we don't go through the process that we did the last time, thinking we had a deal that was going to satisfy them," the governor said.

Cedric Cromwell, tribal chairman of the Mashpee, also predicted in a statement on Tuesday that a new compact — fair to both the tribe and the state — would arrive in the "very near future."

The 2011 law that legalized casino gambling in Massachusetts allows for up to three resort-style casinos in separate geographical areas of the state, but gave preference to a federally-recognized Native American tribe in the southeastern region, provided the tribe met several requirements including a signed compact with the state.

The Mashpee's efforts have reached a critical juncture, with some lawmakers and officials in southeastern Massachusetts growing impatient with the tribe's progress and expressing concern that the region will fall behind other parts of the state in casino development.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission could decide as early as next month whether to open up the bidding for the regional casino license to commercial developers. Such a move could deal a significant setback, if not a fatal blow, to the tribe's hopes of exclusivity in the region.

The Mashpee, which has no land of its own, also faces the formidable task of winning federal land-in-trust approval for the 146-acre site of the proposed Taunton casino. To that end, it received a favorable preliminary advisory opinion earlier this month from the federal Office of Indian Gaming that said the land appeared to qualify as an "initial reservation," which could allow the tribe to conduct gambling at the site in the future.

"We have made unprecedented progress toward opening our destination resort casino in Taunton, including notice from the federal government that our lands qualify for gaming under federal law," Cromwell said.

Another potential legal hurdle for the tribe is a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court decision, in a Rhode Island case, that limits the government's ability to hold land in trust for tribes that were recognized after 1934. The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe won federal recognition in 2007.

The compact agreed to by the tribe last year called for it to return 21.5 percent of future gambling revenues to Massachusetts, the highest figure ever negotiated between a state and Native American tribe.

In rejecting the agreement, the bureau said the revenue allocation was too generous to the state and would undermine the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which says gambling should primarily benefit tribes.


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