Feds Promise Prompt Review Of Mashpee Tribe's Reservation Application
By: Geoff Spillane
The status of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe's application to create a reservation in Mashpee and Taunton, where the tribe has proposed $500 million destination resort casino, is no longer a mystery.
The United States Department of the Interior notified the tribe in writing that it is moving forward on the land-into-trust application, for the first time attaching a timeline for the completion of significant milestones associated with processing the request.
Tribal Chairman Cedric Cromwell informed tribe members at a meeting today at Mashpee High School. The December 31 letter was released to the media shortly thereafter.
By month's end, the tribe will know whether its application will be allowed under what is known as the initial reservation exception, a section of the Indian Regulatory Gaming Act created to assist newly recognized, landless tribes such as the Mashpee, according to a letter sent by US Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn to Mr. Cromwell. Gaming by tribes is technically forbidden, unless they can prove they fall under one of several exceptions to the ban, such as the initial reservation exception. Without qualifying under the exception, the tribe will likely not be able to open a casino.
Mr. Washburn also wrote that the agency will make a decision "in early 2013" regarding its authority to acquire land in trust for the tribe, taking into account the US Supreme Court's 2009 Carcieri v. Salazar decision.
“The schedule outlined by Assistant Secretary Washburn means that our land in trust application is a priority. We appreciate this very strong commitment from the Obama Administration and the active support of Governor Patrick and our congressional delegation,” Mr. Cromwell stated in a news release issued late this afternoon.
Having land in trust is a critical element required for the tribe to move forward with plans to build a casino in Taunton. Lack of information regarding the duration of the application process has generated concern among state legislators, rival commercial casino operators, and the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. The tribe has faced concern that a lengthy, open ended process could leave Southeastern Massachusetts at a significant economic disadvantage, if gaming licenses are issued in the Greater Boston and Western Massachusetts regions while the tribe's land status remained in limbo.
News of the forward momentum on the land-in-trust application comes as tribe enters a critical 60-day period during which the future of its leadership and casino-based economic development initiative will be determined.
The tribe will hold elections for five council seats, including chairman, vicechairman, treasurer, and secretary, on Sunday, February 10, while in mid-March the Massachusetts Gaming Commission will determine how it will proceed with issuing a gaming license in Southeastern Massachusetts. Last month, the commission voted to delay a discussion of the matter for 90 days until it could procure additional information regarding the tribe's progress with its land-into-trust application, and renegotiated compact with Governor Deval L. Patrick.
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