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.