[toc]The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s efforts to build a casino in Taunton took a serious hit last week.
On the day the Department of the Interior was expected to render a decision on the tribe’s appeal to have its land placed in trust, the tribe withdrew its request for review.
“In consultation with the U.S. Department of Interior, the tribe has suspended its request for review under Category 1 of the Indian Reorganization Act,” the tribe said in a statement.
The statement went on to say the tribe would still explore other options. However, there are only a few options left.
Judge: ‘You’re not a Category 2 tribe’
The appeal was one of two avenues the Mashpee Wampanoag explored after Judge William G. Young ruled in favor of a group of Taunton residents who filed suit to block the tribe’s proposed casino.
The DOI placed the Mashpee Wampanoag land in trust under Category 2 of the Indian Reorganization Act. This despite the fact the tribe did not get federal recognition until 2007.
Under Category 2, tribal land can be taken into trust if the tribe comprises “descendants of such members [a federally recognized tribe] who were, on June 1, 1934, residing within the present boundaries of any Indian reservation.”
In his ruling, Judge Young said the tribe didn’t qualify to have its land placed in trust under Category 2 rules. In his opinion, Young wrote, “This is not a close call.”
DOI: ‘You’re not a Category 1 tribe either’
The tribe appealed the decision. It later dropped the appeal. It also requested the DOI consider placing its land in trust under Category 1 of the IRA.
To be eligible under Category 1, a tribe is required to have been under federal jurisdiction prior to 1934.
The DOI was supposed to rule on June 19. However, the DOI delayed the decision a week to June 27. The Mashpee Wampanoag withdrawing the request implies the DOI was going to rule against the tribe.
In an email to WickedLocal Raynham, the lead plaintiff from the 2016 lawsuit, Michelle Littlefield said:
“The Plaintiffs are pleased to know that the Department of Interior has respected and upheld the law. It has been a difficult battle for a group of ordinary citizens to go up against the United States Government.”
What happens next for the proposed casino?
The tribe is running low on options after both dropping its appeal of Judge Young’s 2016 ruling and withdrawing its trust request.
If the tribe is still determined to build a casino, it could build a commercial casino. Then it would pay the commercial casino tax rate to the state.
Here’s why this makes sense.
- Massachusetts still has one commercial casino license left to hand out. That license just happens to be in the Southeast region where Taunton is located. A subsidiary of Rush Street Gaming would have received the final license in 2016 had the tribal casino not been in the works at the time.
- To finance the proposed tribal casino, the tribe partnered with commercial casino giant Genting.
- The Massachusetts Gaming Commission is already familiar with the project.
Here’s why this doesn’t make sense.
- The MGC would reopen the casino proposal process and allow other casino developers to fight for the final license. That license is significantly more valuable now that a tribal casino in the immediate area is off the table.
- Commercial casinos in Massachusetts must pass local referendums before they can be considered. There’s no way of knowing if Taunton residents will approve of the project.
- If Genting wants to build a commercial casino in Massachusetts, the only purpose the tribe would serve is the land on which to build it. There are a number of other sites Genting could consider.