Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Tribes In The Media: Mashpee Wampanoag Casino Plan Moves Ahead

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This installment of The Tribes In The Media is a Cape Cod Times article describing developments in the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe's bid to build a casino in Massachusetts under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. The former management partners of the Mohegan Sun (to whom the Mohegans are still paying about $70 million each year until 2014) are now the principles behind the Mashpee's casino efforts.

Mashpee Wampanoag Casino Moves Ahead
By Stephanie Vosk
Cape Cod Times
November 12, 2008

The Mashpee Wampanoag are preparing to take the next step soon toward becoming a gaming tribe.

A consultant hired by the tribe is expected to release a draft environmental impact statement in the next couple of months that lays out the tribe's plans for a casino and analyzes the impact of taking Mashpee and Middleboro land into federal trust.

For more coverage Release of the draft environmental impact statement will kick off another comment period in preparation for the final impact statement, which has to be crafted before the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs can decide whether to approve the tribe's land trust application.

The tribe believes it is on track to receive a land trust decision early next year, tribal council spokesman Scott Ferson said.

Public hearings on the land trust proposals were held in March, and interested parties were given the chance to comment on the tribe's plan to make 140 acres in Mashpee and 539 acres in Middleboro its initial reservation.

After the hearings, the Bureau of Indian Affairs received 175 written comments on the land trust application's environmental impact. Most of the comments focused on the proposed casino in Middleboro, including the impact on water, wildlife, traffic, and the socioeconomic character of the community, according to a preliminary report released by the environmental consultants Sept. 30.

The imminent release of the draft environmental impact statement is a sign to Middleboro Selectman Adam Bond, a casino supporter, that the process is moving forward.

"Whether the federal government is going to approve it or not, the process is going to go through," he said. "The ultimate result, I couldn't tell you."

Gaming rules a key factor

The tribe has proposed a full-scale resort casino for the Middleboro land, with a hotel, events center and retail complex. Another option calls for a second phase of development that includes a water park and second hotel.

Both proposals assume the tribe will offer Class III gaming, including slot machines and table games, which is illegal in Massachusetts.

The tribe maintains that it could build a Class II facility, full of so-called "bingo slots," without any approval from the state. But the development options that involve Class II gaming are significantly scaled-down projects, according to the consultant's Sept. 30 report.

Neither of the Class II scenarios outlined would include a hotel, and one would forgo the events center.

The draft environmental impact statement also will outline the proposed uses for the nine parcels of land in Mashpee that the Wampanoag want to put in trust. The tribe plans to expand the parcel where its council headquarters is located, possibly including more meeting space, parking and recreational fields.

The draft environmental impact statement will not address state environmental laws. "It's something that the state could ask for through a compact," Ferson said yesterday. "There is some expectation that the state may press that case, but, for the tribe, it's always been a federal application."

Alternative casino sites won't be considered in the draft environmental impact statement, because the Bureau of Indian Affairs only has the authority to respond to the specifics in the tribe's application, according to the consultant's Sept. 30 report.

Obstacles remain

In addition to preparing to respond to the draft environmental impact report, Rich Young, president of the gaming opposition group Casino Free Mass, is closely watching other factors that could keep a casino out of Middleboro, his hometown.

A case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court last week, Carcieri v. Kempthorne, could prevent tribes recognized after 1934 from having land taken into trust by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The state of the economy also could have an impact, Young said.

Additionally, with a new administration coming under President-elect Barack Obama, including a new secretary of the Interior, it is unclear what kind of response the tribe's land trust application will get, he said.

"I don't think anything's a safe bet for the tribe right now," Young said.

Ferson said the Wampanoag aren't worried.

"President-elect Obama obviously has an understanding of the civil rights implications for tribes," he said.