President Biden’s administration has reversed a Trump-era ruling that now gives the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe legal standing to its reservation located partially in Taunton, Massachusetts. This federal ruling ostensibly gives the Mashpee Wampanoags the green light to restart plans for their $1 billion First Light Resort Casino that broke ground in 2016.
The project has been stalled due to a legal mechanic which states that before a tribal casino can be built the tribe’s reservation status must be approved while the land remains in a federal trust according to the U.S. Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Last month’s favorable decision paves the way for the completion of the state’s newest casino.
Challenges Still Ahead
However, there are still legal challenges ahead as the anti-casino group in Taunton has contended that the Mashpee Wampanoags standing under the federal Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 is not valid because they were only recognized as a tribe in 2007.
Therefore, the group asserts that they should have no legal standing to the federal land trust and thus no ability to construct a casino in Taunton. They also state the Mashpee Wampanoags have their tribal land in Mashpee, a section of Cape Cod, and not Taunton, a town 50 miles south along the Rhode Island border.
At 29-years-old, Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Chairman Brian Weeden is the youngest person to hold such a title but he clearly understands the missteps that were made before getting to this point.
“We’re back to the drawing board, basically. There’s still an appetite for gaming. It just needs to be a smart approach. It has to be different from the past. We need to learn from our mistakes and proceed with caution,” said Weeden.
One of the options would be to make it a slot parlor and or bingo hall without table games which would exempt the tribe from the 17 percent state gaming tax. But not having a full-service casino would make it a less attractive destination and the ancillary revenue derived from restaurants, entertainment attractions, and shops would be diminished to one degree or another.
Eyes on Other Prizes
The tribe has also decided to continue its agreement with Malaysian casino development group, Genting Berhad, to whom is owed somewhere in the neighborhood of $600 million.
However, that money will not come due unless the casino is built and begins operations. The outstanding debt has become ponderous and there may be some restructuring of the agreement to allow the First Light Resort Casino to fulfill its original plans and not be relegated to a slot parlor/bingo hall.
Weeden also has his eyes on other prizes like spending down the approximately $15 million the tribe was given through the current administration’s economic stimulus plan and getting hold of their fair share of the $11 billion in federal money earmarked for Native American tribes.
The young chairman has also expressed a desire to get reparations due for tribal communities throughout the United States. “Everything going on in this country around social injustice and racial injustice, that’s all fine and good,” Weeden said. “But the original inhabitants of this country are still fighting for what little land we have. Native Americans still don’t have their fair share.”
It is presently unknown to what extent the First Light Resort Casino will be built, and when, but Bookmakers Review will monitor the situation as it unfolds and report back. Stay tuned!