By Ken Davison
The Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe of Martha's Vineyard presented a proposal yesterday to a subcommittee of the New Bedford city council even though it was reported last week that the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe is now working with that city to build a casino there in anticipation of Massachusetts lawmakers approving an expanded gambling law in the next two months.
The Aquinnahs, formally known as the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), didn't seem to gain much traction at yesterday's meeting. While the Tribe announced it has a deal with a property owner in Fall River for 240 acres located off Interstate 195 for a possible casino site, the Mashpees are asking the city to move a planned 300-acre BioPark 300 off Route 24 which would let them build a casino, shopping mall and three hotels.
The Aquinnahs, who have not yet lined up financing except to say that it won't court foreign investors, tried to persuade members of the City Council's Committee on Economic Development and Tourism that its plan would allow the city to go forward with the planned UMass BioPark that would be scuttled under the Mashpee plan.
City attorney Steven Torres and Office of Economic Development Executive Vice President Kenneth Fiola told the committee that the Aquinnah’s plan wasn't feasible due to access and permit issues.
“Right now the only viable option, with viable access, financing ability that will get the shovels in the ground is the site we have an agreement on right now,” Torres said.
A spokesman for the Aquinnah Tribe said the Tribe will continue to push their plan despite the reluctance of committee members.
The Fall River Redevelopment Authority could vote on the Mashpee plan at a meeting scheduled for Wednesday.
The two federally recognized tribes in that state are jockeying for a commercial license because their right to open an Indian casino on tribal land has been put in limbo since last year's U.S. Supreme Court decision in Carcieri v. Salazar, a ruling on a Narragansett Tribe case that interpreted a federal land-into-trust law as only allowing land to be taken into trust as reservation land for tribes recognized before 1934.
Officials in the state of Rhode Island are convinced that Massachusetts will have casinos soon and will be proposing that the two licensed slot parlors in that state be allowed to offer table games in order to remain competitive. The larger of the two slot parlors, Twin River in Lincoln, R.I., is about 40 miles from Fall River.
Massachusetts House lawmakers in April approved a bill that would allow two casino resorts and slot machines at the state's four racetracks but the state Senate has not yet taken up the bill. The Senate adjourns at the end of June so if a gambling bill is approved this year for the governor's signature it will likely happen by the end of next month.
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