Feds approve land in trust for Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe

The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) plans to appeal a judge’s decision barring the use of its community center for gaming. – MVTimes file photo — File photo by Nelson Sigelman

The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe won a major victory in its quest to build a resort casino in Taunton on Friday, receiving approval for 321 acres of land to be taken into trust by the federal government.

The U.S. Department of the Interior approved the tribe’s 2007 application for land in trust after years of negotiations and reviews, clearing the path for the tribe to open a casino on the land with or without a state gaming license. The tribe’s plans for the land in Taunton includes three hotels, an event center, restaurants, retail stores, and a water park.

Mass Gaming and Entertainment, a subsidiary of Rush Street Gaming, the developer proposing to build a casino at the Brockton Fairgrounds, said Monday it will continue to pursue a license in the face of the tribe’s plans for Taunton, according to the State House News Service.

Under the state’s 2011 expanded gaming law and a compact negotiated with the tribe by the former Patrick administration, the Mashpee Wampanoag would pay 17 percent of gaming revenue from a Taunton casino to the state if it opens a casino with no other gaming competitors in the southeast region. A commercial casino, should one be licensed by the Gaming Commission, would have to pay the state 25 percent of gaming revenue in taxes under the law.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission has the discretion to issue a license in southeastern Massachusetts to another commercial developer. If both the tribe and a commercial casino opened in the region the tribe would not owe any gaming taxes to the state.

Meanwhile, the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) awaits a decision from U.S. District Court Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV that will clear the way for the tribe to turn its unfinished community center building into a gaming facility.

Even as he gave a greenlight to the Mashpee tribe, in December 2013, Gov. Deval Patrick filed suit to block the Aquinnah tribe from moving forward with a gaming facility on Martha’s Vineyard. The fundamental legal issue is the extent to which the settlement agreement limits the tribe’s ability to build a casino, either in southeastern Massachusetts or on tribal lands on Martha’s Vineyard.

Asked to comment on the Department of the Interior Mashpee tribe decision, Tobias Vanderhoop, chairman of the Aquinnah tribe, said, “On behalf of the Aquinnah Wampanoag, I extend my sincere congratulations to the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe for the excellent news of their positive land-into-trust decision. This outcome establishes a land base for Mashpee in their ancestral homelands, and will afford the tribe numerous possibilities for self-determination and economic development. I wish our brothers and sisters all the best as they move forward on this positive path for their people.”