Published March 21. 2013 4:00AM
Mass. governor makes Taunton casino likely
Boston - Gov. Deval Patrick is calling for the legislature to swiftly ratify a revised casino compact with the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe that would lower the share of gambling revenue the tribe must share with the state.
Patrick and tribal chairman Cedric Cromwell announced the signing of the compact Wednesday. It replaces an earlier agreement calling for the tribe to hand over 21.5 percent of gambling proceeds to Massachusetts. The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs rejected the earlier deal, saying the revenue sharing figure was too high and would violate the spirit of an Indian gaming law that says casino profits should primarily benefit a tribe's members.
Under the new compact, the tribe would pay the state 17 percent of gambling revenues if its proposed resort casino in Taunton was the only gaming facility in southeastern Massachusetts. The share would drop to 15 percent if a slots parlor opens in the region and to zero if a casino operated by a commercial developer is built in the region.
In the unlikely possibility that no other casinos are built anywhere in Massachusetts, the state would receive 21 percent of the tribe's gambling revenue.
The state's gaming commission has scheduled a hearing for Thursday in Fall River as it considers whether to open the southeast region to commercial bidders. The state's 2011 expanded gambling law gave preference in the region to a federally-recognized Indian tribe, but also authorized the commission to open the process to commercial developers if it concluded that a tribe was unlikely to get the necessary approvals to go forward with a casino.
"We are pleased to see this next step in expanded gaming take place and I urge the Legislature to ratify the agreement quickly," Patrick said. "A gaming facility will bring needed jobs and economic opportunity to the region."
The Bureau of Indian Affairs must also sign off on the new compact within 45 days. Patrick has said he "vetted" key details with federal officials, an indication that he believes the revised compact will pass muster with the agency.
The deal includes other changes from the earlier compact. For example, it drops a provision that would have offered the tribe assistance in securing new hunting and fishing rights, which the bureau had said fell outside the scope of gaming issues.
The revised compact would also run for a term of 20 years, as opposed to the 15-year term of the earlier agreement.
Mashpee tribal chairman Cedric Cromwell said he believed the new compact, which was approved Tuesday night by the tribal council, would get the backing of the federal government.
The tribe still faces other hurdles before it can begin construction, including a requirement that the federal government take the Taunton land into trust.
In written comments submitted before Thursday's gaming commission hearing, a company seeking to develop a casino in New Bedford urged the panel to open southeastern Massachusetts to commercial gaming applicants as it has in the eastern and western regions.
But KG Urban Enterprises also said it would strongly object to a so-called dual track approach in which commercial developers could apply for casino licenses on a contingency basis if the Mashpee ultimately fail in their bid. The companies would be required to pay the commission's $400,000 entry fee, though there would be no guarantee their applications would even be considered.
Some lawmakers from southeastern Massachusetts who support allowing commercial bidders to compete say the region could fall behind other parts of the state in casino development and lose out on jobs.