Lawmakers Fear Wampanoag Casino Delay

By Sarah Birnbaum   |   Monday, July 16, 2012
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July 17, 2012

BOSTON — Massachusetts lawmakers are reviewing the casino agreement between the state and the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe. The Legislature’s Joint Committee on Economic Development held a public hearing on July 16 at the State House on the compact signed last week by Gov. Deval Patrick and tribal leaders. Southeastern lawmakers expressed concern the project will be frozen for years. 

The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe has plans to build a $500 million facility in Taunton. They say it will bring thousands of jobs to southeastern Massachusetts, which has experienced double-digit unemployment.
However, there's still a major stumbling block: The federal government needs to designate the land in Taunton as tribal land in order for tribal gaming to take place there. And that designation is not a sure thing.The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Carcieri decision that tribes cannot make land outside of their reservation tribal land if they weren’t tribes back in 1934.  The Mashpee wasn’t recognized until many years later.
The Patrick administration and the Mashpee are still lobbying the federal government for approval. Mo Cowan, the governor’s chief of staff and lead compact negotiator said that so far, the feds have been receptive:
"If we take a signal, I say with respect, it should be the issue is not foreclosed and that there is a door, and it is going to be up to us and the tribe to work together hand in hand to make the strongest case possible that there is a reason, an ample basis, to allow this tribe to receive a positive finding on its land-in-trust application," he said.
But at the hearing, Southeastern Massachusetts lawmakers were concerned the process of getting the land into trust could take years and stall thousands of jobs and millions of badly needed dollars from flowing into the region.

This Week in State Politics: A Race Against the Deadline

By Sarah Birnbaum   |   Monday, July 16, 2012
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July 16, 2012

BOSTON — It’s crunch time for the Legislature, with just 2 more weeks until the end of formal sessions this year and six major pieces of legislation unfinished on Beacon Hill. The unfinished bills include a sweeping health care law that would change the way doctors and hospitals get paid, a transportation bond bill for local road and bridge repair and a repeat offender and sentencing reform bill that would impose stiff new sentences and parole limitations on violent offenders and at the same time reduce mandatory minimums to state’s drug sentencing laws.

On Monday, the Joint Committee on Economic Development holds a public hearing on the governor’s agreement with the Mashpee Wampanaog tribe to build a casino in East Taunton. Even though the governor signed a compact with the Mashpees during the week of July 9, a casino could be a long way off. They first need the federal government to take the land into trust a process that could take many years.

The Massachusetts Department of Telecommunications and Cable holds a hearing on July 19 to discuss the high phone rates for prisoner calls. Every time inmates place a phone call, it costs the person answering far more than a regular collect call. Prisoners' Legal Services has filed a petition to address the fees, rates and dropped calls.

And on July 20, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development releases the job and unemployment numbers for the month of June.

Governor, Tribe Sign Agreement for Taunton Casino

By Sarah Birnbaum   |   Thursday, July 12, 2012
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July 13, 2012

illustration of proposed casino
The tribe shared this illustration of the proposed casino in April 2012. (Courtesy of the Mashpee Wampanoags)

BOSTON — The Mashpee Wampanoag Native American tribe officially signed a deal with Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick for the exclusive right to operate a casino in the Southeastern region of the state on July 12. It's the most concrete development so far in the race to establish casinos in Massachusetts.
In a press conference outside his office, Patrick applauded the agreement, saying, “We are very pleased with the deal. It’s a good thing for the tribe, and a good thing for the Commonwealth.”
Under the compact, Massachusetts would get 21.5 percent of the revenue from the casino, which the tribe wants to build in East Taunton. That’s a more lucrative compact than other states have managed to negotiate with Native American tribes. But it’s still below what a commercial casino would have to pay.
The deal does not necessarily mean the dice will be rolling in Taunton any time soon. The tribe still must get federal permission to use the property for a casino, through a process called "land in trust" that could take years. Meantime, other developers may line up to seek a casino in that region of the state, one of three regions the Legislature has designated for casino development.
But Patrick said the benefits of having a tribal casino outweigh the risks.
"There has been some worry out there that because the land in trust process can take a long time, that the other regions' advancement towards having a casino would overtake the tribal facility over time. I’m not sure that’s the case, but the risk on the other side is if we don’t allow some reasonable period of time, we could end up with two casinos in the region, which I think everyone thinks is saturation," he said.
The compact will now go to the Massachusetts Legislature for approval, and then to the federal government.

This Week in State Politics: The President and an Eastie Casino

By Sarah Birnbaum   |   Monday, June 25, 2012
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June 25, 2012

BOSTON — On June 25, President Barack Obama will attend a campaign fundraiser at Boston’s Symphony Hall. The event comes at a tough time for the Obama campaign. Republican Mitt Romney outraised Obama in May. It was the first time he had done so. And outside groups supporting Romney spent $16 million on ads slamming Obama in the swing states. The president will attend two more fundraisers in the Bay State before heading out.
Also on June 25, opponents of a casino at East Boston’s Suffolk Downs will hold a community meeting. Developers want to build a 300-room hotel and resort casino at the thoroughbred racing track. Supporters say it will create 2,500 construction jobs and 4,000 resort jobs. But opponents fear increased crime, traffic congestion and reduced property values.
And on June 26, state officials are planning to break ground on a $106 million Hollywood-like studio complex at the former military base in Devens. The state announced $5 million in tax-increment financing for the project, which cuts taxes for the complex over 20 years. The fully occupied complex is expected to host 800 jobs.

Suffolk Downs Announces Casino Plan

By Sarah Birnbaum   |   Tuesday, June 5, 2012
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Artist's rendering. (Courtesy)

June 5, 2012

EAST BOSTON — A large crowd of town officials, developers and residents gathered in East Boston on June 5 as the owners of Suffolk Downs unveiled plans for a $1 billion, 163-acre gambling resort casino at the site of the racetrack. The plans include 200,000 square feet of gambling space, a hotel, restaurants and retail shops. 
The owners showed a slick 3-minute promotional DVD while horses trotted outside on the track. Principal owner Richard Fields said the location was ideal.
"Suffolk Downs is 5 minutes from our airport, is 10 minutes from downtown," he said. "When the project is completed, it will be a great partner to enhance the convention center and stimulate tourism for all of Boston, for Revere and for the entire region."
David Manfredi, the lead architect of the project, displayed the first architectural renderings of the proposed facility. "We envision an urban oasis — a mecca of entertainment of hospitality, gaming, restaurants, shops. It is that mix that will make it very special and will make it very urban,” Manfredi said. The plans call for a hotel, spa, restaurants, shops and a casino all to be built around the 77-year-old racetrack.
Suffolk Downs and its partner, Caesars Entertainment of Las Vegas, plan to bid for one of the three resort casino licenses under the state's new gambling law. Officials of the track said they would spend millions of dollars to tackle traffic concerns in the congested neighborhood, and would pursue host community agreements with Boston and neighboring Revere. They also said the resort would generate about 4,000 jobs — something on the minds of many residents in the area.

Only East Boston and Revere would get to vote on the proposal, not residents from all of Boston, thanks to a provision in the casino gambling bill which critics said at the time was rigged to help Suffolk Downs. Now that Wynn Resorts and Las Vegas Sands have pulled out of the game, Suffolk Downs appears to be the leading contender for the single casino license that state law will allow in Greater Boston. The lack of competition means the racetrack won't have to bid as much for a license — which could mean that taxpayers lose.

This Week in State Politics: Storms and the Senate

By Sarah Birnbaum   |   Tuesday, May 29, 2012
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May 29, 2012

BOSTON — This week in Massachusetts state politics, the casino oversight board meets, officials commemorate the Western Massachusetts tornadoes and Springfield hosts the Democratic state convention.
On Tuesday, the Massachusetts gaming commission holds its weekly meeting. The commission has been under pressure to move quickly and plans to start evaluating proposals for casinos in January. The meeting comes after two major casino operators — Las Vegas Sands Corporation and Wynn Resorts  — abandoned plans to build facilities in Massachusetts. Industry watchers say this could mean less competition for the Greater Boston license, leading to lower bids or less ambitious projects.
On May 30, the House of Representatives takes up a bill that would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to preregister to vote. The bill would also authorize random audits of voting machines to make sure they work properly.
On Friday, the governor and lieutenant governor head to Western Massachusetts to commemorate the anniversary of the June 1, 2011 tornadoes. The storms destroyed thousands of homes and businesses. Insurance claims topped $200 million and three people died.
> > WATCH: Tornado damage lingers
And on Saturday, Massachusetts Democrats travel to Springfield for the state convention. Consumer advocate and Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren is expected to easily win the party’s nomination to the U.S. Senate. But North Shore immigration lawyer Marisa DeFranco is also gathering steam. She will likely get the 15 percent of delegate votes needed to qualify for the primary ballot.
> >  READ:Marisa DeFranco isn't going away

About the Author
Sarah Birnbaum
Sarah Birnbaum is WGBH News' State House reporter. Send her a news tip.


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