Massachusetts Tribe Reconsidering Approach to Casino Plans

The state of the gaming industry in Massachusetts has been in flux for some time now. Lawmakers in the Codfish State have been debating the prospect of sports betting for years. Native American tribes in the commonwealth have also been trying to get in on the gambling action by building their own casinos. One tribe, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, is hoping that its newly reaffirmed reservation rights will allow it to move forward with its casino plans.

President Biden’s decision to affirm the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s reservation rights overturned a Trump-era decision. Now the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe has the legal standing it needs to continue its pursuit of building a casino resort.

However, the new chairman of the tribe, Brian Weeden, says the tribe will need to reconsider its approach to building a casino. Weeden believes the changing landscape of the casino industry needs to be taken into account. Massachusetts has struggled to keep up with other states in the gaming industry. Currently, there are three other casinos operating throughout the commonwealth. Many states reported record-breaking incomes in the final months of last year. However, MA casinos reported decreases in income in November.

One issue preventing the MA gaming industry from keeping pace is the topic of sports betting. Legislators are expected to legalize sportsbooks soon, which would give the industry a need boost.

Weeden and the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe are not the only group looking to build a casino in MA. The Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe has already started building a gambling hall near Martha’s Vineyard. Both Native American tribes face opposition to their gaming plans. The Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe faces legal issues regarding their right to build their gaming hall. On the other hand, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe has faced opposition from the residents in Taunton who do not want a casino in their town.

Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Looking for Economic Stability

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe has faced many obstacles in its quest for a casino. However, Weeden and other tribal officials hope that a casino could provide the tribe with economic stability. Chairman Weeden has been public about his plans to address substance abuse, homelessness, and other issues that affect the tribe.

So far, the tribe has received $15 million from President Biden’s coronavirus stimulus bill. Tribal officials also plan to apply for federal funds from the new $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill.

A total of $11 billion in the bill is intended to go toward Native American tribes. Chairman Weeden has also proposed the idea of requesting increased restitution from the government in the form of either more land or financial compensation.

On top of federal funding, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe also plans to address its issues in other ways. A casino is not the only option for new sources of employment and income. The tribe can also open and operate recreational marijuana shops, as well as tax-free gas stations and smoke shops.

Obstacles to Building the Casino

It is important that the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe have other options for achieving economic stability. So far, it has faced many obstacles to its plans of building a casino. The Tribe has a deal with Genting Berhad, a Malaysian-based casino developer.

If the tribal casino is built and opens for business, the tribe will owe Genting Berhad $600 million. Construction originally started in 2016 on a $1 billion resort casino but had to stop after running into legal problems.

Another obstacle for the tribal casino is that the original plans for the casino resort may be too lavish. The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe planned for the casino to include dining options, a hotel, and a water park among other entertainment options. However, original plans were halted by an order under former-President Trump.

A more simplified design would not only be easier to build, but it could also save money in the long run. By not offering table games such as blackjack and poker, the tribal casino could avoid a 17% state tax on gaming revenue.

Tribal officials also face opposition from some of the residents in Taunton, MA where the casino would be built. The anti-casino group has asked a federal judge in Boston to reopen their legal challenge against the tribe. According to opponents of the casino, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe should not qualify for reservation.

The anti-casino group has argued that the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe was not a recognized tribe in 1934 when the Indian Reorganization Act became law. As a result, they argue that the tribe should not be eligible for reservation. They have also argued that the tribe should not be allowed to use the land they intend to build the casino on. The land in Taunton is roughly 50 miles from the tribe’s home located in Cape Cod. As a result, the group argues the land should be considered part of the tribe’s historical land.

Conclusion

Casinos and sportsbooks across the US reached newfound success in 2021. Unfortunately, not every state has been as willing to join in on the action. Massachusetts, for instance, has not yet legalized sports betting. As a result, revenues at the state’s three casinos dipped in the last quarter. If legislators can pass a sports betting law in 2022, then the industry could get back on track. Adding new casinos could also help. The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe is hoping to help with the latter.

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe recently received had its reservation rights restored. Now, tribal Chairman Brian Weeden hopes to resume the tribe’s plans for building a casino. Chairman Weeden plans to work with other tribal officials to modernize the tribe’s casino dreams. He also wants to address other issues affecting tribal society such as substance abuse and homelessness.

Chairman Weeden and the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe will not be able to address their goals unopposed. The tribe has already faced opposition from the federal government under former-President Trump. Now, the tribe is facing opposition from some residents of Taunton. The opposition is claiming that the tribe does not qualify for reservation status. They are also claiming that the land for the casino in Taunton should not be part of the tribe’s property.