Mashpee Wampanoag tribe places big bet

The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe went all-in on its proposed Taunton casino on Monday, announcing the facility would begin opening in phases next year.

The aggressive move by the tribe to accelerate its construction schedule is an attempt to sway the Massachusetts Gaming Commission and intimidate its would-be commercial rival, Mass Gaming and Entertainment, which wants to build a casino in Brockton.

Tribal officials said they plan to break ground on the First Light Resort & Casino next month and open a gaming facility next summer near the intersection of Routes 24 and 140, near the Silver City Galleria mall. Construction of a hotel, retail stores, a performance stage, spa, and water park would follow.

Officials said the project would cost $1 billion to build and employ about 1,000 construction workers and 2,600 permanent employees. By contrast, the proposed Wynn Resorts hotel and casino in Everett is expected to cost $1.7 billion to build and employ 4,000 construction workers and 4,000 permanent employees.

The Gaming Commission is in the process of deciding whether to award its third and final casino license to Mass Gaming and Entertainment or to dispense with the license and leave the region to the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe.

The choice isn’t easy because it’s not clear whether the Mashpee Wampanoag casino will ever get built, or if it does get built whether it will be allowed to stay open. A lawsuit is pending challenging the federal government’s decision allowing the tribe to take the Taunton land into trust as part of its reservation. If that suit succeeds, the tribe’s casino plans could be shut down. But if the Gaming Commission gives a casino license to Mass Gaming and the lawsuit over the Taunton land fails, the state could be left with two casinos in Massachusetts within 20 miles of each other.

With Monday’s announcement, the tribe is gambling that pushing ahead with the construction of its casino will cause the Gaming Commission and Mass Gaming to back off. It’s a risky bet, given the legal uncertainty surrounding the taking of land into trust by Indian tribes. Most of that uncertainty was brought about by a 2009 Supreme Court decision, which rejected a bid by the federal government to take 31 acres of land into trust for the Narragansett Indian Tribe of Rhode Island.

Mashpee Wampanoag officials, as they have in the past, insisted the lawsuit challenging their acquisition of reservation land has no merit. They said their casino is moving ahead. “All the doubters out there? Sorry, it’s happening,” said Cedric Cromwell, the tribe’s chairman.




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