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Federal Bill Could Pave The Way For Mashpee Wampanoag Casino

cement pouring into wheelbarrow

The saga of a proposed tribal casino in southeastern Massachusetts has taken yet another turn, following the introduction of legislation to reaffirm the Mashpee Wampanoag tribal land by Massachusetts Senators Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren.

The lawmakers introduced the bill, S 2628, on March 22.

There is currently no text for the bill. However, the Senate bill bears the same title (and has the same purpose) as a shortly worded resolution, HR 5244. Massachusetts Rep. William Keating introduced that resolution in the House of Representatives earlier this month.

If passed, the legislation would solve the tribe’s ongoing land trust issues. It would also pave the way for the First Light Casino, a joint project between the Mashpee Wampanoag and Genting Malaysia.

“I would very much like to thank the outstanding leadership of Senators (Ed) Markey and (Elizabeth) Warren on this bill to protect our ancestral homeland,” said Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council Chairman Cedric Cromwell in a statement to local press.

“This bill is further evidence that Congress, in both the House and Senate, see it as the honorable and just thing to do — re-affirm our right to a reservation for our people and to ensure that our Tribe will be treated equally under the law as other federally recognized tribes.”

If the bill passes, it would end debate over the Mashpee Wampanoag’s ability to have their land placed in trust. As such, it would immediately remove the legal roadblocks that have held up the casino project.

A rollercoaster ride for the Mashpee Wampanoag

Everything started to go haywire for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe after a group of Taunton residents filed suit, challenging the Department of Interior decision that placed the Tribe’s land in trust in 2015.

The Taunton resident won their case, and the fate of the First Light Casino has been up in the air ever since.

Here’s what’s happened since that point:

  • The tribe took two actions shortly after the ruling. It filed an appeal (that it later dropped) and requested the DOI reexamine its land in trust application on different grounds.
  • The DOI decision was expected on June 19, 2017. Instead, the decision did not come until June 27.
  • Expecting a negative decision, the tribe withdrew its request on June 26, 2017. Just a few days later the DOI rejected the tribe’s decision to withdraw its request. It later reopened the case on its own accord.
  • All submissions for the new case were due by Nov. 13. The DOI was expected to make a decision in the following, days, weeks, or months. To this point it hasn’t proffered a ruling.
  • In the meantime, the Tribe is accruing mounting debt.

Tribal leadership adamantly defends its ability to build the casino. As such, it won’t rule anything out, including turning the project into a commercial rather than tribal casino. If the federal legislation is passed that won’t be necessary.

Steve Ruddock

About

Steve Ruddock is a veteran of the poker media, contributing to offline and online publications centered on the regulated US online gambling industry. These include OnlinePokerReport.com, PlayNJ.com, USPoker.com as well as USA Today. Steve is based in Massachusetts and is also a poker player.