Gambling law unknowns

The late entry of the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe has upended the calculus behind the Mashpee Wampanoag’s Taunton casino bid. The Mashpee were supposed to have a head start on one of the three casino licenses the state will be handing out. Now, at the very least, the Mashpee might have to head to court to dispatch the Aquinnah and preserve their exclusive negotiating window.

The Aquinnah tribe announced this week that it has secured options to purchase potential casino sites in Lakeville, Freetown, and Fall River. It has requested that each municipality hold a local referendum on building a casino, as is required by the gambling law Gov. Deval Patrick signed last fall.

Lakeville officials responded by asking the tribe to be more specific — along the lines of spelling out exactly where in town the tribe would want to build. The tribe has said it’s not ready yet to discuss specifics, and town selectmen aren’t sure whether the Aquinnah request starts the clock on a regimented local review, as provided by the state gambling law. After all, it’s difficult to start a discussion about gambling impacts on local infrastructure if the town can’t pinpoint where, exactly, the impacts would be occurring.

The Aquinnah appear to have found a gaping loophole in the gambling law, which is surprising, given the number of years Beacon Hill spent debating casino gambling. The casino law provides for local approval of any gambling facility. It instructs municipalities to schedule a local casino referendum between 60 and 90 days after receiving a request from a prospective casino developer.

The law provides for ballot questions to specify the location of the gambling facility voters will be asked to approve, but there’s nothing in the  law that says casino proponents have to disclose where they want to site a casino when asking for a vote. There’s no legal timetable at all for making such a disclosure. At some point, 60 to 90 days after asking for a vote, the proponent would have to disclose site information in order to get it printed on a ballot. But Lakeville selectmen are currently asking for information that, surprisingly, the Aquinnah have no legal obligation to provide. There’s also nothing in the law preventing the tribe from pursuing multiple local approval votes simultaneously.

Last fall, a prominent gaming attorney argued that lawmakers and Patrick administration officials were describing a tribal review process — taking land into trust under the disputed federal Indian Gaming Regulatory act — that isn’t actually required in the language of the gambling law. With a tribe that was supposed to be out of the game suddenly shopping for three separate and as-yet unnamed casino sites, the state continues to be surprised by what it doesn’t know about the gambling law.

                                                                                                                            –PAUL MCMORROW

BEACON HILL

Rex Trailer could become the official cowboy of Massachusetts, WBUR reports.

Former state senator Cheryl Jacques has been called to appear before the State Ethics Commission because of an allegation that she improperly cited her position as a state administrative law judge while intervening on her brother’s behalf in a dispute over dental service charges.

The town administrator in Webster calls the local state rep an absentee legislator, the Worcester Telegram reports.

The recent Supreme Judicial Court ruling on Quinn Bill payments brings good and bad news to communities, argues The Cape Cod Times.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Weymouth will begin posting its town payroll online.

Developer John Rosenthal talks with Emily Rooney about his $450 million game-changing vision for the Fenway.

Marshfield has reached an agreement with its unions on a health insurance plan that will save the town about $178,000 a year, half of which officials will return to employees to offset some of the cost increases.

CASINOS

State Treasurer Steve Grossman names Enrique Zuniga, the director of the Massachusetts Water Pollution Abatement Trust, to the new state gambling commission.

The spokeswoman for the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe is also a fundraiser for House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s PAC, an arrangement casino critics call “incestuous.” Meanwhile, the Mashpee Wampanoags have formally requested a vote in Taunton for their proposal to build a casino in the Silver City.

The Mohegan Sun casino writes a $50,000 check to Palmer, the Worcester Telegram reports.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

Juan Williams says if you liked the political polarization brought to you by the 112th Congress, “then you will love the the 113th.”

ELECTION 2012

US Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren pushes her middle-class mantra in Ayer, the Lowell Sun reports.

Warren, not known for her circumspection, is refusing to voice clear support for or opposition to the Secure Communities program, which Scott Brown supports.

Republican Christopher Sheldon jumps into the 9th Congressional District race. Bristol County District Attorney Samuel Sutter and US Rep. William Keating are vying for the Democratic nomination, the Lowell Sun reports.

New York magazine writer Jonathan Chait explains why Republicans are running scared – on WBUR’s On Point. Independents who abandoned Democrats in the 2010 midterms are returning.

Keller@Large says if you make it illegal for politicians to read from teleprompters as Rick Santorum suggests, you’ll end up with politicians saying dumb things.

Newt Gingrich’s colossal ego is Mitt Romney’s new best friend. In the American Spectator, Quin Hillyer chronicles the awkwardness of Mitt’s Everyman persona. Margery Eagan hits on the same theme, giving particular attention to the things — a “full tummy and a long day” — that send Mr. Inevitable off to sleepyland.

The Justice Department rejects a new voter ID rule in Texas.

Something most voters in Alabama and Mississippi believe in: President Obama as a secret Muslim. Something most voters in Alabama and Mississippi do not believe in: Evolution.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The Berkshire Eagle says the regional economy could use a life sciences incubator in a local office park rather than just the proposed retail establishments.

Workers in the Boston area building trades are seeing hints of an economic recovery in an uptick in construction work.

EDUCATION

A member of the Peabody School Committee is calling on state lawmakers to repeal a pension provision that allows teachers who leave their jobs to do union work to receive “virtual salaries” qualifying them for higher pensions, the Salem News reports.

Will this hurt the elitist charge? For the first time since 2007, Harvard Law School was unseated from second place and fell to third behind Yale and Stanford in the annual U.S. News & World Report law school rankings. Boston University was tied for 26th, while Boston College was 29th.

HEALTH CARE

With Quincy Medical Center now owned by a for-profit company, the hospital must decide what to do with $1.5 million its foundation has from charitable donations and gifts given when it was a nonprofit.

TRANSPORTATION

The MBTA starts a crackdown on fare evaders, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

The T is preparing to borrow money to close its budget gap, reports State House News Service (via Lowell Sun). Proposed MBTA service cuts and fare increases will be bad for our health, says a report issued by a regional planning association. Meanwhile, Harvard economist Ed Glaeser says it’s unfair to saddle the T with all the federal-mandated costs of The Ride, the transit program for the disabled.

The money-losing Worcester Regional Airport takes another hit, as the only commercial passenger airline serving the airport cancels all its flights, the Worcester Telegram reports.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The warmer than usual spring brings with it the possibility of more tornadoes.

The Cape Cod National Seashore superintendent goes ahead and tears down five at-risk cottages on a Chatham barrier island. Some locals are not amused.

Energy executives and the Environmental Defense Fund now contend that poorly constructed gas wells, not natural gas fracking, is causing groundwater pollution.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Catherine Greig, the girlfriend of mobster Whitey Bulger who spent 16 years on the run with him, will plead guilty to charges related to harboring a fugitive, a deal that could  mean a few years in jail. She will be allowed to keep her Quincy home and has made no agreement to testify against Bulger.  

Former Lawrence school superintendent Wilfredo Laboy plans to take the stand and defend himself against charges of fraud and embezzlement, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

A former Holyoke teacher convicted of having sex with her 15-year-old student is charged with violating her probation after the student is found hiding in her closet, NECN reports.