Last week, the U.S. Department of the Interior made the decision that the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe doesn’t meet the requirements that would allow the tribe to use the land to build a casino in Taunton. This week, confusion, disappointment and legal battles ensue as the tribe and many regional politicians fight for building a casino.
In 2015, the Department of the Interior held land in trust for the tribe in Mashpee and Taunton, Massachusetts. In 2016, the tribe announced they had plans to build on 151 acres of land in Taunton, for the First Light Resort and Casino. While there was some protest by residents, the tribe was determined, and had the support of Taunton Mayor Thomas Hoye. On Monday, Hoye spoke with journalists and said,
“It’s great for the city. We’re talking over $8 million a year in cash to the city. Twenty-something police officers per year. Twenty-something firefighters per year.”
On September 7th, the Interior Department reversed the 2015 decision and said that since the land wasn’t under federal jurisdiction when the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 was passed, the tribe doesn’t qualify for holding land in trust. Without having that land in trust, the tribe cannot build the casino because the tribe doesn’t meet the federal definition of “Indian.”
In a letter to the tribe, the assistant secretary for the bureau of Indian Affairs, Tara Sweeney, said that the tribe doesn’t meet the federal requirements that would allow it to have a sovereign reservation. Tribes have to have reservation status to open a casino.
Tribal Council Chairman Cedric Cromwell said that the decision was unfair and with Hoye, hopes that Congress will provide a solution. Legislation entitled the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act has been introduced that will allow the tribe to go ahead with its plans. The Massachusetts delegation supports the bill but Rhode Island Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and Jack Reed don’t. The bill, introduced to the House by U.S. Rep. William Keeting (D-Mass) in March, and in the Senate by U.S. Senator Edward Market (D-Mass), with U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) as co-sponsor.
Mayor Hoye said he hopes that all of this will be resolved by the end of 2018 and is still behind the tribe’s project; however, if those plans don’t succeed, he’s not against bringing in a commercial partner to build a casino.
Brockton, a town 19 miles from Taunton, wants to build a casino. Mayor Bill Carpenter wants to try again to get permission to build a casino. The state application for a $677 million casino was rejected by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission in 2016 because of worries of over-saturating the local gambling market if the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe built its own casino.
Carpenter thinks it would be unfair for Congress to go around the July 2016 court decision to deny the Mashpee Wampanoag’s tribal casino.
“I just can’t agree with this notion that a federal judge makes a final decision, and the Department of Justice has abandoned their appeal, and after that Congress considers overriding all of that. I think it’s a separation of powers issue.”
Taunton Mayor Hoye said if Congress passes the bill, it would benefit everyone, not just Taunton and the tribe:
“The Mashpee Wampanoag have put forth a first-rate proposal that would be tremendously beneficial to everyone looking for a job or economic development in southeastern Massachusetts. This includes not only the people of Taunton, but everyone in the region, including our friends in Brockton. …I applaud the Massachusetts congressional delegation for saying enough is enough, and I thank them for filing legislation to clear this up once and for all. I call on everyone in Massachusetts to support this legislation as well.”
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