$1bn Casino in Massachusetts Might Be Dead in the Water

Boston, Massachusetts, USA historic skyline at dusk

The first resort casino in Massachusetts opened in August at the MGM Springfield, and two other resort casinos had been planned. However, it seems that the casino resort that the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe planned is not going to happen, after all.

Resort casinos in Massachusetts

For many years, gambling was heavily restricted in the state. Horse race betting has been allowed since 1934, and there are still two horse tracks in operation in the state, along with a dog racing track.

The state lottery was founded in 1971 and now offers many pull-tab and scratch-card games. Some non-profits are allowed to offer certain types of gambling to raise funds for their operations, such as casino nights, bingo, and bridge.

There has been a long-running debate about whether casinos should be legalized or not. Two Native American tribes have been trying for many years to be allowed to build gambling premises on their land.

The Aquinnah tribe was involved in a long-running dispute with the state officials that culminated in a decision by the state’s Supreme Court decision in January. The decision gave the tribe the-all clear.

Federal authorities officially recognized the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe in 2007. This tribe wanted to create a massive $1bn (£770m) casino resort, but their efforts have been unsuccessful so far.

The Expanded Gaming Act of 2011 legalized commercial casinos. This act included a provision that a maximum of three resort casinos and a single slots parlor would be allowed.

The MGM Springfield recently opened and the Encore Boston Harbor casino is being developed. The Mashpee tribe had been hoping for the third and final resort license, but it seems that its efforts may have been in vain.

$1bn resort casino defeated?

It seems as if the plans for this $1bn (£770m) casino resort could be gone. The US Department of the Interior has issued a ruling that it cannot hold land as part of a trust on behalf of the tribe.

The tribe had been planning to use this land as part of the project. The DOI under the previous president, Barack Obama, had made the opposite decision, but now it has been reversed.

The ruling says that the tribe doesn’t meet the requirements to have their land put into trust because the land was not under federal jurisdiction when the Indian Reorganization Act was passed in 1934.

The tribe argued that there was evidence of their ancestors being on the land for more than 400 years, even though the government only officially recognized the tribe in 2007.

This latest decision is a killer blow to the Mashpee Wampanoags’ attempt to keep their reservation preserved. They were given 321 acres of land via a trust in 2015 and it was declared to be the tribe’s sovereign land.

Under federal law, any land that is part of a trust has a special status. It means that the tribe is allowed to utilize this land in any way that they wish and they have full autonomy over the decisions they make.

A lawsuit was filed in 2016 by area residents and a federal judge told the DOI to review the decision. The reason for this lawsuit was the tribe’s plans to develop a massive casino resort there. They had already broken ground for the project when the lawsuit was filed.

State legislation was introduced early in 2018 to recognize the tribe’s right to the land and stopping any further legal action, but it appears to have been too little, too late.

The tribe has asked Congress to reverse the DOI’s decision, but that is not believed to be likely and the dream of having a $1bn resort casino on the land looks to be gone forever more.

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