Developers behind a plan to build a casino at the Brockton Fairgrounds got more than they bargained for when they asked the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to reconsider their failed bid.
The Commission decided last week to go above and beyond just reconsidering its decision on the Brockton Fairgrounds casino project. Instead, it will solicit comments from the public and the gaming industry on whether it should reopen the entire application process for a casino license in southeastern Massachusetts. This area is officially known as Region C.
No reconsideration process
Rush Street Gaming-backed Mass Gaming & Entertainment only asked the Commission to reconsider its 2016 denial of the company’s $700 million Brockton Fairgrounds casino project bid.
However, the Commission came to the conclusion it has no process to reconsider its denial, nor can it look at the bid on its own. Essentially, the Commission claims it cannot reconsider the bid without reopening a broad application process for a southeastern region casino license first.
The Commission’s General Counsel Catherine Blue penned a letter to Mass Gaming & Entertainment explaining the Commission only allows for a competitive evaluation process when considering casino license applications. The letter says the Commission would have to adopt new regulations just to grant the company what it’s asking for.
Of course, the Commission can reopen the whole application process, allowing it to consider a new bids from Mass Gaming & Entertainment or any others. Commissioner Gayle Cameron said regulators simply want to hear from southeastern Massachusetts locals and gaming industry officials before it does that:
“I would like to hear from the public. I think any decision we make we always make a better decision when we know what the region is thinking, what the people are thinking. That would help us in our decision with next steps with regard to this.”
A request for public comments
The Commission ultimately asked Blue to prepare a request for comments. It will then select a 45-day period where it will accept comments on the topic. Only after all comments are received will a decision be made on whether to reopen the application process for a southeastern region casino license.
The southeastern region casino license issue has become quite convoluted over the past few years.
The Commission rejected Mass Gaming & Entertainment’s proposal by a vote of 4-1 vote in 2016. It claimed it had not demonstrated it would build a facility that would provide great benefit to the local community or the state.
However, the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe had already started construction on its $1 billion First Light Resort and Casino in Taunton. The property is just 20 miles from the Brockton Fairgrounds. Concerns over how the Brockton project would compete had been weighing on Commissioners minds as well.
Since then, the First Light Resort and Casino project has run into a long list of its own issues.
More complicated Massachusetts casino issues
The tribe broke ground on the casino project in 2015. The US Department of the Interior had given the landless tribe a land in trust designation. The designation was challenged by a group of Taunton residents opposed to the casino. In 2016, a US District Court Judge took away the tribe’s designation and effectively halted construction. The Judge ruled the tribe is ineligible for the designation. The reason being that it was not considered a tribe under federal jurisdiction when the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act passed.
In September 2018, the Department of the Interior affirmed this decision.
A number of Massachusetts-based federal lawmakers are now trying to get that decision reversed. The group has introduced legislation to Congress that would designate the land a part of a 300-acre reservation. That would give the casino the green light.
In the meantime, the tribe is now suing the Department of the Interior. Plus, it has to be keeping a close eye on the Commission.
If the Commission reopens the application process, the tribe could submit its own commercial casino bid. Funding partner The Genting Group could as well.
Massachusetts lawmakers voted to expand gaming in the Commonwealth in 2011. The openings of Plainridge Park Casino slots parlor and MGM Springfield followed, with Everett-based Encore Boston Harbor planned for a summer 2019 opening.