Wampanoag Tribe Wins Verdict in Massachusetts

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The statue of Chief Massasoit, the leader of the Wampanoag tribe. Bryan R. Smith/AFP

Back in 2011, the Massachusetts legislature approved casino gambling in the Bay State and then-Governor Deval Patrick signed it into law. And since that time two of the state’s three Category 1 licenses have been taken with the MGM Springfield in the western part of the state while the Encore Boston Harbor resides in Everett, Massachusetts, a city 15 minutes north of Boston.

Initially, the state was carved into Region A, B, and C for the purposes of casino locations. Each region was allowed one full casino license and the only region currently without one is Region C, comprised of Plymouth, Bristol, Dukes, Barnstable, and Nantucket counties.

READ MORE: Massachusetts Commissions Study on Sports Betting

It’s safe to say that if a casino is built in this region, it will be in either Plymouth or Bristol County. The other three counties are sparsely populated but highly trafficked in the summer as Dukes County is where you will find the beautiful people during the hot months with Martha’s Vineyard as is its jewel.

Nantucket County speaks for itself with the uberwealthy summering in Nantucket, the island neighbor to Martha’s Vineyard. As for Barnstable County, it’s where the common folks go to get their sun and fun on, with a coastline worth of prime real estate on what most know as Cape Cod.

What’s the Holdup?

The hang-up in awarding the last remaining Category 1 license is that there has been an ongoing legal battle between the state and the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe about putting a tribal casino in the Region C area which would be outside the scope of a state-run casino.

Therefore, it would be a bit redundant to have a tribal casino in the least populated of the three regions and then expect a developer to sink at least half a billion dollars into another glimmering gambling joint in the same region.

The other big issue is that this region borders Rhode Island and its two main tribal casinos, the world-renown Foxwoods Resort & Casino along with its smaller but mighty neighbor, the Mohegan Sun. There are also two state-affiliated casinos located even closer to the Massachusetts border, Bally’s Twin River Lincoln and Bally’s Tiverton.

READ MORE: Some are Just Saying No in Massachusetts

But after several years of legal wrangling as to who owned 321 acres of Taunton and Mashpee, the Wampanoags have won a landmark verdict that could pave the way for the First Light Resort & Casino in Taunton, Massachusetts located in Bristol County.

Bryan Newland, assistant secretary for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, says this legal journey has come to its conclusion in a 55-page brief.

“I find that statutory authority for acquiring the Parcels exists under the Indian Reorganization Act. The 2015 decision to acquire such Parcels in trust first made by then-Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn should be affirmed.”

Gaming Compact Solution

The last legal stumbling block for the Wampanoag of Mashpee is getting a deal struck with the state of Massachusetts to upgrade from Class II bingo-based gaming to being allowed slots and table games via a gaming compact with the state.

State Rep. Carol Doherty (D-Bristol) warned that the combination of a billion-dollar tribal casino abutting a state dotted with casinos would essentially evaporate any interest by casino developers to invest in a market so heavily steeped in competition.

READ MORE: Judge Nixes Sunshine State Sports Betting Compact With Tribe

“There is speculation that a casino in this C region is not viable due to oversaturation of the market because the region is located in close proximity to Rhode Island, which has its own casinos,” stated Doherty. “The uncertainty around the status of the tribal casino in Taunton adds to the complexity of a Region C license.”

Bookmakers Review will be monitoring the complex casino conundrum in the Bay State and keep you posted.