During a Taunton City Council meeting on Tuesday, May 12, discussion of $500,000 owed by the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe included mention of the prospect of a bingo hall in Mashpee. The tribe, however, has no plans for such a project at present.
The chairman of the tribal council, Cedric Cromwell, said in a statement on Wednesday, May 13, that there are no plans for a bingo hall in Mashpee “at this point because the Tribe is too busy fighting to protect our ancestral lands against attacks from the Department of Interior during the global Covid-19 pandemic.”
The tribe has made a payment in lieu of taxes of about $500,000 to the City of Taunton on an annual basis since purchasing 151 acres of land in Taunton in 2015.
The tribe had planned to build a $1 billion casino for economic development, as allowed under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. However, a lawsuit by a group of Taunton residents contested an Obama-era US Department of the Interior decision that placed the Taunton land owned by the tribe, along with land in Mashpee, into federal trust.
The 2015 land in trust decision created a Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe reservation exempted from taxation, but an intergovernmental agreement between the tribe and the City of Taunton established the annual payment in lieu of taxes.
The Trump administration’s Interior Department has since ordered that the tribe’s land be taken out of trust after a federal First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston in February found in favor of the party of Taunton residents and against the tribe.
A separate case that has postponed temporarily the order to remove the tribe’s lands from trust is scheduled to be heard by a federal District Court in Washington, DC, on Wednesday, May 20.
On Tuesday, May 12, the Taunton City Council discussed a payment in lieu of taxes due in November, which the tribe has yet to pay.
A May 8 letter from the City of Taunton’s legal department regarding the nonpayment stated “a request made by the Tribe for an extension for payment was agreed to based on the expectation of the Tribe to raise revenue through the establishment of a tribal bingo hall.
“However, the establishment of a tribal bingo hall has not been realized due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said the letter, read aloud by Taunton City Clerk Rose Marie Blackwell.
“This is the first I’ve heard of the possibility of a bingo parlor being on that site,” Taunton City Council Member David Pottier said, in apparent reference to the reservation land in Taunton.
Taunton Mayor Shaunna O’Connell clarified for the council that the referenced bingo hall was planned for Mashpee, not Taunton.
“I have never heard of Mashpee having a bingo parlor though either, is that something that is in the works?” Mr. Pottier said.
Mayor O’Connell replied, “I have nothing to do with it, it’s something they were trying to pursue, we decided to give them that opportunity and the legal department is the one who does have these conversations.”
In emails obtained through a public records request, the chairman of the Mashpee selectmen, Andrew R. Gottlieb, responded to an unnamed sender identified only as “Concerned Citizen” who linked to the Taunton discussion of the bingo hall and late payment and attached the legal department letter.
“I had heard rumors about the bingo issue and the town has communicated to the Tribe through the town manager that it was our expectation that the Tribe would meet with the board of selectmen prior to initiating such an activity,” Mr. Gottlieb said.
“To the best of my knowledge the town had no awareness of the assertions made to the City of Taunton cited in the letter you attached, nor have we been informed of the connection between payments to the City of Taunton and activities planned in Mashpee,” he said. “This is the first I have seen of it.”
Mr. Gottlieb forwarded the email exchange to Town Manager Rodney C. Collins and asked that the matter be placed on the agenda for the upcoming selectmen’s meeting on Monday, May 18, after consultation with the town’s legal counsel.
Mr. Cromwell, the chairman of the tribe, said in his statement, “We look forward to continuing to work closely with the City of Taunton and the Town of Mashpee and finding ways to support each other.”
The Taunton law department is seeking to meet with the tribe, the department’s letter on the disputed payment said.