In an earlier version of this story we noted that a decision regarding the Mashpee Wampanoag Indian tribe’s $500 million Project First Light Resort & Casino proposal for the Bristol County city of Taunton, Massachusetts could be made within 30 days, according to an August 21 letter from the US Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).
The BIA has since released a second letter clarifying their position. The second letter explains that BIA plans to decide on the tribe’s requisite reservation proclamation application, rather than an ultimate decision on their land in trust proposal.
This means that it may still be quite some time before the tribe can take further steps to establish a casino license in Massachusetts.
While the letter expressed no indication of how the BIA would rule, tribal representatives were optimistic that the long-awaited decision regarding the tribe’s land trust application to establish a reservation in Taunton was forthcoming. The decision would also help to clear the murky waters that surround casino licensing in the state.
The city of Taunton became the tribe’s targeted location for a casino in 2012, after a 2011 state casino law authorized a third and final resort casino license, and since then questions regarding legal interpretations of “under federal jurisdiction,” and whether or not the Mashpee is under federal jurisdiction have plagued the decision making process. Further complicating the licensing process by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, and debated by both, opponents, and the tribe, is whether or not the power to place the 150 acres of land in Taunton into federal trust and declare it as reservation land lies with the Secretary of the Interior. Awarding the Mashpee with the license that is reserved for the Southeastern Massachusetts region, which includes the tribe’s reservation as well as the land in Taunton it hopes to add to its reservation land, was what lawmakers envisioned when they enacted the state casino law. Anticipating a favorable decision by the BIA, Cedric Cromwell, tribal chairman said, “We have always been confident in our prospects.”
Voters were in favor of the prospect of casinos in their communities, and detailed bids for the license were submitted by Brockton and New Bedford casino site developers earlier this year, but the prospect of approval of the Mashpee proposal proved to be prohibitory for one of the applicants. After spending $10 million and pursuing it for eight years, New York-based developer, KG Urban, withdrew its bid for a New Bedford casino last month. The developer cited the inability to obtain adequate funding due in part to the real possibility of competition from a tribal casino in Taunton in the future, reason for the departure. That withdrawal leaves the Mashpee and Brockton racetrack owner George Carney as the only remaining contenders.
In reaction to the letter the Gaming Commission said it would contemplate the “totality of factors” in Southeastern Massachusetts in its continued consideration of the Brockton casino proposal before a final incense determination is made.