Details of this bill
House Bill 312 was introduced by Massachusetts Representative Bill Keating in January 2019 and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren supports it.
It relates to two pieces of land, in Taunton and Mashpee, Massachusetts, that the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe wants to make tribal land. The two tracts encompass 321 acres.
The tribe wants to build a casino resort on this site. However, residents successfully stopped development in 2016, only a few months after the building process began.
The residents argued that this land could not be put into trust by the federal authorities because the tribe did not have federal recognition at the time of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. They did not get federal recognition until 2007.
A costly and long-running legal battle has arisen over this issue. The casino, which would cost over $1bn to develop, would contain 150 table games, more than 3,000 gaming machines, and a 900-room hotel.
House Bill 312 would bypass the Department of the Interior to allow this casino resort development to go ahead. The tribe would obtain the third and last resort license available in Massachusetts if they win sovereign designation for this land.
President Trump’s opposition
President Trump recently made his first public comment on this bill, calling on Republicans to reject this ball. He tweeted: “Republicans shouldn’t vote for [HR] 312, a special interest casino bill backed by Elizabeth (Pocahontas) Warren. It is unfair and doesn’t treat Native Americans equally!”
This led to a delay on the vote by the House Democrats. A lot of casinos close to this potential casino resort site have concerns that their businesses will suffer significantly if the project gets the green light. Two of these casinos are in nearby Rhode Island.
This led some people to believe that President Trump is being influenced by presidential adviser and lobbyist Matt Schlapp. Schlapp also works with Twin River Worldwide Holdings, the owner of the two Rhode Island casinos. Some believe that Schlapp was pushing for Trump to help defeat this bill.
Bill gets House approval
Despite the President’s opposition, the House has approved the bill by a 275-146, with 47 Republicans voting in favor and only two Democrats not supporting the bill. The bill now goes to the Senate.
During the House debate on this issue, many were scathing of Trump’s comments. Massachusetts Representative Keating said that the president was “trying to sink an entire Native American tribe in the name of special interests, dirty lobbying, and outright bigotry. The cast of characters behind the scenes spewing misinformation is revealing.”
Keating went on to say: “Cultural warfare to benefit bank accounts. Corrupt intent for personal gain, all in the form of a racist tweet. And some members of this body are eager to let him get away with it — but not me, not my co-sponsors, and not the majority of this House.”
Representative Joe Kennedy’s district encompasses Taunton, where the casino site will likely be. He says that the House vote was “a matter of right and wrong, of correcting a historical injustice that has been perpetrated for far too long. There is no argument other than greed that comes back to why anyone should vote against this bill.”
What of the opposition?
Those who opposed the bill said that the project would mainly benefit Genting Malaysia, the casino company backing the tribe. The company has already sunk significant funds into this project and some who opposed the bill said it would be a vote to bail out a foreign corporation.
One of the Democrats to vote against the bill was Rhode Island Representative David Cicilline. He said that this bill effectively is “a special deal for a single tribe, and that’s just wrong.” He did acknowledge that he also had the economic interests of his state in mind when voting on this issue, saying: “I am very proud of my fierce defense for my state, and putting an off-reservation on the border would have a significant negative impact for Rhode Island.”