[toc]Other than a stack of unpaid bills, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe has little to show for its attempt to build a billion-dollar tribal casino in Taunton, Massachusetts.
And, according to reporting in the Taunton Gazette, the debt crisis just reached critical mass.
The paper reports that a robocall went out to tribal members this past weekend. It informed them that the tribe’s mounting debt resulted in cuts to some tribal social services, including in the youth and elder departments. The call also urged tribal members to attend a meeting on Sunday, Nov.12, to address the debt situation.
Press was barred from entering and no details have emerged from the hours-long meeting.
Aren’t casinos supposed to make money?
At the core of the Tribe’s debt issues, is the stalled First Light Casino.
The First Light Casino project ground to a halt soon after it gained approval back in 2013. Since then, the situation turned into quite the saga.
A successful lawsuit by Taunton residents halted construction efforts. Meanwhile, the tribe’s legal appeals and inquiries to the Department of the Interior (DOI) to intervene are still in limbo.
Here’s a look at the saga that is the First Light Casino thus far:
- The DOI placed the tribe’s land into trust in September 2015, green-lighting the First Light Casino.
- Construction stalled when a group of Taunton residents filed suit and won their case.
- The tribe appealed the ruling, but later dropped the case.
- At the same time, the tribe requested the DOI reexamine its land in trust application on different grounds.
- The DOI decision was expected on June 19, but it delayed the decision until June 27.
- Expecting the decision to go against it, the tribe withdrew its request on June 26.
- Within days, the DOI rejected the tribe’s decision to withdraw its request and reopened the case.
- All submissions were due on Nov. 13, and the DOI will make a decision in the coming, days, weeks, or months.
Who is funding the First Light project
Unable to pay for a billion-dollar casino on its own, the tribe is funding the project with the help of gaming giant Genting Malaysia.
If the casino ever comes to fruition, Genting would manage the property and receive 40 percent of net revenue.
According to the Taunton Gazette:
“Genting Malaysia has invested approximately $347 million in interest-bearing promissory notes issued by the tribe to finance the construction of the long-delayed project, according to the developer’s June 2017 quarterly report.”
The reporting goes on to say that as of October 2014 the Tribe had already borrowed more than $90 million from Genting at an interest rate of 16.5 percent. The current debt stands at $425 million, according to the paper.
What’s next for the Mashpee tribe?
In an interview with Jim Braude of WGBH News, Mashpee Chairman Cedric Cromwell said the tribe submitted the appropriate applications with the Department of the Interior. Now they are waiting for a decision.
During the interview, Braude asked Cromwell why the tribe doesn’t simply apply for the commercial gaming license Massachusetts has not awarded yet.
Not wanting to saturate the market, the state decided to mothball its third commercial casino license when the Mashpee Tribe initially got the go-ahead to start construction on its tribal casino. As long as the tribal casino remains up in the air, so does the fate of the third commercial license.
According to Cromwell, not only is the revenue share with the state significantly different for commercial operators, at present the tribe is content to wait for the Interior Department’s decision. However, when pressed about the possibility of applying for a commercial license before the Interior Department’s decision, Cromwell said he wouldn’t rule anything out.
Left unsaid, if the commercial casino license does become the chosen path, the Mashpee Tribe is no longer necessary. Genting could simply apply for the license and have full ownership of the casino.
You can watch the full interview here: