Massachusetts new tribal head to pursue casino project with “caution” after reservation affirmed

Massachusetts new tribal head to pursue casino project with “caution” after reservation affirmed

Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Chairman Brian Weeden said the Massachusetts tribe intends to look at the idea of pursuing gaming with “fresh eyes” amid a changing landscape for gambling. A decision last month by President Joe Biden’s administration affirmed the tribe’s reservation, giving the nation legal footing to pursue its casino ambitions.

Weeden, in his first full year in office, said the tribe must have a “smart approach” to the issue, given existing competence in the state, reports Associated Press. Massachusetts currently has three major casinos: MGM Springfield, Encore Boston Harbor and the slot parlor Plainridge Park.

“We’re back to the drawing board, basically,” said Weeden. “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.”

But the Mashpee Wampanoag’s casino dreams may face opposition should they be pursued. Anti-gaming residents in Taunton, the city where the tribe’s casino-resort project was proposed, have asked a Boston federal judge to reopen their legal challenge.

Parties opposing the casino plans argue that the tribe wasn’t eligible for a reservation because it was not an officially recognized tribe in 1934. That is the year in which the federal Indian Reorganization Act, which laid the foundation for modern federal Indian policy, became law.

What’s more, opponents further argue the tribe’s lands in Taunton should not have been included in its reservation. This is due to them being located about 50 miles from the tribe’s home base on Cape Cod, and weren’t part of the tribe’s historical domain. The reservation encompasses about 170 acres in the town of Mashpee, and 150 acres in Taunton.

But according to Weeden, the legal challenges currently being faced won’t deter the tribe, further reports AP. Moreover, just prior to last month’s decision, the tribe extended a deal with Malaysian casino developer partners Genting Berhad for another year.

The Tribe Chairman further explained the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe was looking to reach new financial terms to rein in its debt to the gaming giant, which is about $600 million and growing, but which comes due only if a gambling hall actually opens.

The tribe first broke ground in 2016 on a casino resort in a former industrial park, valued at $1 billion. Called First Light, the venue was set to feature a hotel and shopping, dining and entertainment options. However, litigation and a Trump administration order soon would derail the project.

According to Weeden, building a more modest slot parlor or bingo hall could be a viable solution, as it would exempt the tribe from a 17% state tax on gaming revenues, reports NBC 10. This would, however, imply leaving out of the gaming offering popular table games such as blackjack and poker.

But the newly set approach to look at gaming with fresh eyes could imply leaving the idea altogether: all options are being explored. Weeden said the tribe shouldn’t rule out abandoning its casino ambitions in favor of seeking new ways to achieve financial stability.

These alternative financial projects include opening tax-free smoke shops, tax-free gas stations, qzzXrtr43W9ZG or recreational marijuana shops. “We need to exercise our sovereignty,” the Tribe Chairman said. “Casinos are just low-hanging fruit.”