Rhode Island lawmakers and the owners of two new Rhode Island casinos are hoping to prevent Congress from passing legislation that would turn land in Taunton, MA into a Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe reservation, allowing construction of an Indian casino to move forward just a half hour away from both properties.
The tribe has already broken ground on what will be Massachusetts’ first Indian casino. However, a federal judge forced it to stop construction in 2016, taking away the tribe’s rights to the land.
Massachusetts lawmakers have since introduced legislation to Congress that would make the land a part of a 300-acre reservation. It’s a move that would effectively give the green light for construction of the $1 Billion First Light Resort & Casino.
Rhode Island officials are now weighing in, claiming that allowing the tribe to finish the 400,000-square-foot gambling facility will cost it millions in tax revenue.
The owner of the new Tiverton Casino Hotel in Tiverton, RI and Twin River Casino in Lincoln, RI, says the opening of a competing casino just a half hour away will cause it’s revenue to drop by more than $50 million.
Tax revenue impact
A market study by Christiansen Capital Advisors conducted in 2017 came to a similar conclusion. It claims revenues will decline by $49.8 million in fiscal 2022. Additionally, it said revenues will decline an additional $13.7 million in fiscal 2023.
For Rhode Island, that would mean a $26.1 million decline in tax revenue in the first year. Plus, another $6.6 million the year after.
U.S. District Court Judge William G. Young took away the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s rights to the land because the tribe was not formally under federal jurisdiction in 1934 when the Indian Reorganization Act was first enacted.
Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo sent letters to President Donald Trump and members of the Congress considering the legislation. She wants the court’s decision upheld.
In fact, Gov. Raimondo claims the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe wants the reservation land for no other reason than building the casino:
“If passed, the (Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act) would allow the Mashpee to bypass the well-settled Indian Reorganization Act and have land taken into trust for purposes of operating a resort casino in Taunton…(It would) directly undermine decisions of the United States Supreme Court, the United States District Court for Massachusetts and the current view of the Department of the Interior that the Secretary of the Interior is not authorized to take land into trust for the [Mashpee Wampanoags] or any other tribe that was not under federal jurisdiction as of 1934.”
Massachusetts’ first tribal casino
US Senator from Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren issued a statement standing behind the legislation this week:
“Our bill is about recognizing the Mashpee Wampanoag tribal homelands and the tribe’s right to keep their reservation. The federal government should not renege on yet another deal with Native Americans.”
The $1 billion First Light Resort & Casino project is being financed by Malaysia’s Genting Group. Original schedules called for it to open this summer. The project sits approximately 35 miles south of Boston, MA and 20 miles east of Providence, RI.