Massachusetts Continues to Wrestle Over Southeastern Gambling License

The Massachusetts Gambling Commission will address the future of ­casinos in Southeastern Massachusetts in March, seeking to resolve a long-standing question over whether the region should remain off-limits to commercial casino developers while the Mashpee Wampanoag pursue federal approval for a tribal ­casino in Taunton.

The board’s movement toward a decision is an incremental victory for those who want the ­region opened to commercial ­developers and have complained that further delay leaves the southeast lagging behind the state’s other two regions, where commercial casino companies are pitching proposals worth as much as $1 billion.

On Thursday, the commission scheduled a hearing for March 21 in Southeastern Massachusetts to hear from the tribe and others with a direct stake in the future of casino gambling in the region. ­After that hearing, the commission will assess whether to open the region to commercial developers, possibly with the condition that it would end the bidding if the Mashpee have a breakthrough in their pursuit of a tribal casino.

The law initially excludes commercial developers from the southeast to give the ­Mashpee Wampanoag a head start in developing a tribal ­casino under federal law. The tribe selected a site at the junction of Routes 24 and 140, but faces legal obstacles to converting the land to a reservation eligible for tribal gambling. Under state law, the commission has the power to ­license a commercial casino in the southeast if it concludes the tribe will be unable to overcome its legal hurdles.

The commission faces two potentially bad options: The longer it waits, the further the southeast region may fall ­behind the rest of the state. However, if the commission allows a commercial casino, it risks someday having two casinos in the southeast, if the Mashpee at some point overcome their legal obstacles.

The head start provided to the Mashpee Wampanoag in state law is also being challenged in court by KG Urban Enterprises, a developer interested in building a commercial casino in New Bedford. Cedric Cromwell, chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag, maintained that the tribe’s plans are on track and that there is no need for the commission to solicit commercial bids and that the tribe’s appli­cation for tribal land recent­y cleared an initial hurdle and that the federal government is committed to a speedy review of the full application.

“When the commission considers these facts, as well as how much farther along we are than any other project, an overwhelming vote from the City of Taunton supporting our plans, and an environmental process that will be completed this spring, we are confident that they will agree that making any change to the Southeastern Massachusetts region is unnecessary,” Cromwell said.

That’s all for now!



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