Gaming commission won’t alter course on tribal casino

Members reject plea by Brockton developer to grant a commercial license regardless of Mashpee Wampanoag plans

The state’s Gaming Commission rejected a proposal by the developers of a Brockton casino plan to either expedite the licensing process or declare that it will issue a Southeast region gaming license regardless of what happens with the Mashpee Wampanoag plans for a Taunton gaming resort.

Chairman Stephen Crosby, echoing a consensus among the five-member panel, said the commission is still eyeing a decision for the state’s final commercial casino license in February or March. They will not alter their plans despite the recent ruling by federal officials to grant the Wampanoag’s application for land in trust.

“I come to the same bottom line that we should not change our plans,” Crosby said at the commission’s meeting in Springfield on Thursday. “Land in trust is not like a new surprise, like ‘hello, it’s here.’ We knew it was coming; it could come at any time. We knew that someday we’d have to make a decision either with or without land in trust being resolved.”

Under a compact signed by former governor Deval Patrick, the Wampanoag agreed to pay 17 percent of the revenues from a Taunton casino to the state. However, under the agreement, they would not pay anything if a commercial casino opened in the same region. By law, commercial casinos pay a 25 percent gaming tax. The commission has said they will consider the impact of competing casinos as part of their decision on issuing a commercial license in the region.

Mass Gaming & Entertainment, the group behind the planned casino at Brockton Fairgrounds, had asked the commission to agree that they would award the so-called Region C license as long as there was a qualified applicant without waiting for the tribe’s next move. The company, which is the sole applicant for the commercial license after a bid for a New Bedford casino was withdrawn, argued that even with the approval for land in trust, the issue could be tied up in courts for years.

“Region C should not have to remain in limbo,” John Donnelly, the group’s lawyer wrote in a letter to support its request which was made prior to the Bureau of Indian Affairs decision last week. “As the Commission has acknowledged, delays in opening the Region C establishment carry opportunity costs, in the form of revenue, jobs, and economic expansion.”

But Crosby said guaranteeing a license without weighing whether the Wampanoag casino could open and what its impact would be would run counter to what lawmakers intended when they approved casino gambling.

“It’s always been clear to us that the Legislature wanted to give a head start to the tribe and there was a predisposition not have four casinos,” said Crosby, who acknowledged that the concerns over litigation and extending the timetable have always been considerations for the commission. “We’ve had to weigh the cost of those uncertainties against the express wish of the Legislature to give the tribe their shot.”

The decision by the Bureau of Indian Affairs is a major step toward paving the way for the Mashpee Wampanoag to open a casino. But some observers point to a 2009 Supreme Court decision that could be an obstacle for the tribe. The decision nullified a push by the Narragansett Indians in Rhode Island to take land in trust, ruling the nation did not have a reservation and was not a recognized tribe within parameters set by Congress. The Wampanoag face the same challenge. But the federal land in trust approval took pains to point out that the bureau’s decision was based on another qualification for tribal recognition that the court did not invalidate.

Catherine Blue, the commission’s general counsel, cautioned members against discussing the federal decision in depth because it was not on the agenda and the commission’s lawyers were still parsing it to determine its meaning. Commissioner Gayle Cameron, without addressing the details, said the decision is a significant “milestone” that the panel has to consider.

“We have a new data point here that could affect the decision,” she said.

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

In other business, the commission watched a presentation for a new plan for the proposed MGM casino in downtown Springfield. The new plan, while maintaining the planned 250-room hotel, reduces the facility from 25 stories to six stories and spreads it out more. In addition, the revised design will move planned market-rate housing to another site outside the casino’s footprint.

MGM Springfield president Michael Mathis said a rise in construction costs was the main motivation behind the changes, but he insisted the group is still committed to investing $800 million in the project. The move also means the end to a fight over the United Electrical Workers building, which is listed on the National Register of Historical Places. The developers had planned to demolish the building to make way for the casino and housing, a decision that triggered protests from historical preservation groups.

The commission took no action on the redesign, but it will eventually have to approve a change in scope.