Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe casino ruling stirs shakeup of sorts

Leaders of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe of Massachusetts share their flag with the city of Taunton, the location of the $500 million First Light Casino and Resort, on September 21, 2015. Photo from Facebook

The ink is barely dry on the landmark casino decision for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and already there is major change stirring in Massachusetts.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs approved the tribe's land-into-trust application on Friday, clearing the way for the the $500 million First Light Resort and Casino in the city of Taunton. The decision poses major hurdles for a commercial casino in the southeastern part of the state.

Although H.3702, the Massachusetts Expanded Gaming Act, envisions two casinos in the region, the market may not be able to sustain the non-Indian facility, experts told The Taunton Daily Gazette. Beyond that, the state has an incentive to protect the tribe's exclusivity -- the revenue sharing rate in the Class III gaming compact drops from a high of 21 percent to 0 percent in the event a commercial casino opens in the region.

MGM Resorts International broke ground on an $800 million casino in Springfield, Massachusetts, in March 2015 but an opening is likely three years away. Photo from MGM

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission will consider the status of the commercial project at a public meeting tomorrow.

Across the state, the MGM Resorts International made a significant change at its $800 million casino in downtown Springfield. The 25-story glass tower is being relocated and reduced to a six-story facility with a more traditional facade.

The hotel would still offer the same 250 rooms but local officials aren't happy with the new design because they said it lacks the wow factor of the original proposal. MGM also plans to delay the opening of the facility to September 2018 -- a year later than originally anticipated, The Springfield Republican reported.

The New England Casino Race: Tribal and commercial gaming facilities in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island

MGM, meanwhile, has been focusing on a potential new development in neighboring Connecticut. The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and the Mohegan Tribe are planning to operate a joint facility somewhere near the state line -- Springfield is only a few miles from the border.

Company executives initially ridiculed the idea but they are now suing the state of Connecticut in hopes of preventing the tribes from moving forward. The tribes believe they can gain final approval of their project sometime next year and open their facility before MGM does.

Get the Story:
Experts: Land-in-trust decision a fatal one for region's commercial casino progress (The Taunton Daily Gazette 9/23)
MGM's casino plan, minus 'skyscraper' component, means Springfield from I-91 will look like ... Springfield (The Springfield Republican 9/23)
Springfield casino's redesign would eliminate hotel tower, relocate apartments (The New London Day 9/23)
East Hartford Planning Commission To Discuss Outlet Center, Vacant Theater Plans (The Hartford Courant 9/23)
Gov. Charlie Baker: 'Market will decide' on southeastern Massachusetts casino (The Springfield Republican 9/22)
MGM redesigns Springfield casino without hotel tower (AP 9/22)

An Opinion:
Editorial: Triumphant tribe (The Cape Cod Times 9/23)

Relevant Documents:
Chairman Cedric Cromwell Announcement | Mashpee Wampanoag Trbe Press Release | Bureau of Indian Affairs Press Release | Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn Letter to Chairman Cedric Cromwell | Record of Decision | Attachment I - Legal Descriptions | Attachment II - Maps | Attachment III - Mitigation Monitoring and Enforcement Plan | Attachment IV - Response to Comments on the Final Environmental Impact Statement

Federal Register Notice:
Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Proposed Fee-to-Trust Transfer of Property and Subsequent Development of a Resort/Hotel and Ancillary Facilities in the City of Taunton, MA and Tribal Government Facilities in the Town of Mashpee, MA by the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe (September 5, 2014)

DOI Solicitor Opinion:
M-37029: The Meaning of "Under Federal Jurisdiction" for Purposes of the Indian Reorganization Act (March 12, 2014)

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