The US Department of the Interior issued what amounts to a crushing blow to the $1 billion First Light Resort & Casino, under construction in Taunton, MA on Sept. 7. But the project is hardly dead yet.
The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe broke ground on the casino project in 2015 after the Department of the Interior gave the landless tribe a land in trust designation. However, a group of Taunton residents were opposed to its plans to build a casino and filed suit, challenging the designation.
In 2016, US District Judge William G. Young ruled against the tribe. Young took away the tribe’s designation and effectively halted construction based on the 2009 Supreme Court ruling in Carcieri v. Salazar. The ruling states a tribe is only eligible for a land in trust designation if it was considered a tribe under federal jurisdiction when the Indian Reorganization Act passed in 1934. The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe was not.
The Department of the Interior’s final answer
The final decision by the Department of the Interior on Sept. 7 affirmed this decision. This is despite the fact that various Massachusetts-based federal lawmakers were in the middle of trying to get it turned around. The group introduced legislation to Congress earlier this year that would make the land a part of a 300-acre reservation. It was a move that would ultimately give the casino the green light.
US Sen. Elizabeth Warren and US Sen. Ed Markey, two of the Massachusetts lawmakers behind the legislation, criticized the blowing decision in a joint statement:
“The decision by the Trump administration to move forward with denying the Mashpee Wampanoag a right to their ancestral homeland and to keep their reservation is an injustice. America has a painful history of systematically ripping apart tribal lands and breaking its word. We cannot repeat that history. Today’s action by the Trump administration is yet another deal the federal government is reneging on with Native Americans, and it underscores why Congress must pass our legislation, so that the Mashpee Wampanoag do not lose their home at the hands of the federal government.”
Clearly, lawmakers still hope to pass legislation to supersede the court ruling and Department of the Interior decision. However, the future of the $1 billion First Light Resort & Casino remains in doubt with Congress unlikely to act quickly on that.
Keeping hope alive for First Light Resort & Casino
In the meantime, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission could soon open up another door for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe. Plus, a competing casino bid in Brockton may be unwittingly helping it do so.
Back in April 2016, the commission denied a proposal for a $677 million commercial casino at the Brockton Fairgrounds. The proposal came from Mass Gaming & Entertainment, a partnership between fairgrounds owner George Carney and Illinois-based casino operator Rush Street Gaming.
However, Brockton Mayor Bill Carpenter has been trying to breathe new life into this project ever since. In addition to appealing to the Commission, he has been actively lobbying against the federal legislation that would green light First Light Resort & Casino.
The Commission decided earlier this summer to hold a September meeting to revisit the Brockton Fairgrounds casino application. However, it also decided to open up discussions regarding a broader idea. One that would include granting a commercial casino license in southeastern Massachusetts.
It’s a move that would ultimately allow the Mashpee to submit a competing bid for a project already under construction. Plus, its funding partner, The Genting Group, could very well do the same.