After decade-long efforts for establishing Indian gaming, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe of Massachusetts is still no closer to receiving an approval for their casino project in Taunton. The US authorities are now reviewing documents and deciding whether taking Mashpee tribal land into trust is lawful or the tribal claims are invalid in this case.
The Massachusetts tribe which consists of over 2,600 people needs to have federal lands put in trust in order to be authorized to establish a casino. The U.S. Department of the Interior had previously decided to take 170 acres of reservation land in Mashpee and 151 acres in Taunton into trust for the tribe. However, this was challenged in court leading to halting the resort casino project planned by the tribe. On Tuesday, the Department of the Interior said that it would issue an official decision on the matter within 30 days, which means that a final agreement between the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe and the authorities may be reached soon.
The Associate Solicitor for the Interior Department Eric Shepard explains in an email that although the federal agency is still reviewing the arguments of the two parties, it will announce its decision within a month, as the matter is considered a “top priority”. Commenting this notification, Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Chairman Cedric Cromwell said that he is optimistic, although there is no certainty that the resolution will be in favor of the tribe.
The obstacles faced by the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe come from a Supreme Court ruling which requires applications for land into trust to be filed by tribes that have been under federal jurisdiction in 1934. This is when the Indian Reorganization Act was passed and the status of Indian Americans was determined. However, the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe could not gain federal recognition before 2007 despite its efforts for more than 30 years.
The First Casino Resort in Massachusetts
The Mashpee Wampanoag Casino in Taunton was planned to be the first casino resort in the state and the project was initially slated for a 2018 opening. However, the lack of federal decision regarding the Mashpee Wampanoag land halted the construction. There was also strong opposition from Taunton residents who protested against the location of the planned casino complex – it is adjacent to two schools, including the local elementary school.
The tribe proposed a large mixed-used complex which would consist of a hotel part and a casino and would cost approximately $500 million to develop. Named First Light Resort & Casino, the project would be co-financed and operated in association with the Malaysian Genting Group, which owns a large number of hotel and casino complexes around the world.
If approved and constructed, the resort would feature a mid-range, 300-room hotel, up to 10 retail outlets, restaurants, and bars. There would be a 150,000 sq. ft. gaming floor that would house 3,000 slots and video poker machines, 150 gaming tables and a poker room with 40 tables.