Mashpee Wampanoag tribal lands in Taunton and Mashpee, Massachusetts were officially declared a reservation by the U.S. Department of Interior on Friday.

Under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, first acquired trust lands cannot be used for gaming until they are declared a reservation under the Indian Reorganization Act. That declaration was published in the Federal Register on Friday morning. The reservation proclamation closely follows the transfer of formal ownership by the tribe of approximately 321 acres of tribal lands in the City of Taunton and the Town of Mashpee to be held in trust for the tribe by the federal government. According to the tribe’s press release (pdf), the official declaration was the last of several federal processes required for the tribe to reestablish a sovereign land base, economic development and tribal self-government under federal law.

While to date, no legal challenges have been made to any of the decisions or federal processes, in a letter to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission opponents say they plan to file suit. However, the legal fees for such a suit could possibly take up to six years to be raised. In the press release, Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council Chairman Cedric Cromwell also reaffirmed that the tribe would begin construction on its world-class destination resort casino, $500 million Project First Light, in Taunton in the spring.

In September the U.S. Department of the Interior approved land into trust applications for the transfer of approximately 151 acres of land in East Taunton and 170 acres in Mashpee for the tribe. The tribe’s headquarters is on the 321 acres, along with museum, burial grounds and the area where it has plans to construct affordable housing for members of the tribe.

All of this transpired at the same time the commission is deciding whether it will award Massachusetts Gaming & Entertainment a commercial gaming license in Southeastern Massachusetts. Mass Gaming is proposing a $677 million casino less than 20 miles from the proposed Mashpee project, at the old fairgrounds in Brockton. They are confident the Brockton casino will be profitable even with a tribal casino in Taunton. The developers believe that the Department of the Interior’s decision will be challenged and litigated for years, tying up the Taunton deal for an undetermined amount of time.

Under the terms of a compact between then Governor Deval Patrick and the tribe, Massachusetts would not receive taxes from the tribal casino if there were two casinos in the region. However, without another casino in the state’s Region C, the Mashpee Wampanoag would be obligated to pay the commonwealth a 17 percent share in gaming revenue.

The Mashpee also said in its press release that it has been working on infrastructure needs, such as the formation of emergency services on Tribal lands. While a deal between the Town of Mashpee and the tribe has been a source of contention, the tribe does have agreements with Taunton and the state. On Monday the Mashpee Board of Selectmen will review a revised tribe-town agreement. The tribe also reported a deal is also in the works with Barnstable County Sheriff James Cummings to provide the tribe with dispatch services, a booking room and holding cell.

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