New confirmation, Tribes looks at casino plans with new eyes


“There is still an appetite for gaming. All it needs is a smart approach. It has to be different from the past. We need to learn from our mistakes and move forward with caution.”

A wooden sign advises motorists to locate the Mashpee Wampanoag tribal land on June 25, 2018 in Massachusetts. The tribe won a major victory in their years-long battle to retain their reservation in December 2021, but that doesn’t mean the path for a Massachusetts tribe to build a resort casino on sovereign land has become any clearer. AP Photo/Steven Sene

BOSTON (AP) — As he begins his first full year in office, the new chief of a Massachusetts tribe says he intends to take a cautious approach to gambling, while considering social challenges and other economic opportunities for its members. Is.

Brian Weeden, the president of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, who is 29 and the youngest to hold the position, said last month’s verdict Confirming the tribe’s reservations and reversing a controversial Trump-era order by President Joe Biden’s administration gives the tribe a legal basis to continue pursuing their long-standing casino dreams.

But he said tribal leaders also want members to take a fresh look at the idea, given how much the gambling landscape has changed.

There are currently three major casinos in Massachusetts – MGM Springfield, Encore Greeley Tribune Harbor, and slot parlor Plainridge Park. The separate Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe has also broken ground on a more modest gambling hall on Martha’s Vineyard, although this has been shrouded in legal uncertainty. And state lawmakers are weighing in on legislation to legalize sports betting in Massachusetts.

“We’re basically back to the drawing board,” said Wyden, who took over in May, in an extensive interview Thursday. “There is still an appetite for gaming. All it needs is a smart approach. It has to be different from the past. We need to learn from our mistakes and move forward with caution.”

Meanwhile, anti-casino residents in Taunton, the city where the Mashpie Wampanoag project is proposed, have asked a Greeley Tribune federal judge to reopen their legal challenge.

He argues, as he had earlier, that the tribe was not eligible for reservation because it was not an officially recognized tribe in 1934, the year the Federal Indian Reorganization Act, which laid the foundation for modern federal Indian policy, became law. Gone. ,

Opponents have also argued that the tribe’s lands in Taunton should not be included in its reservation because they are approximately 50 miles from the tribe’s home base on Cape Cod and were not part of the tribe’s historical domain. The tribe’s reservation covers about 170 acres in the town of Mashpi and 150 acres in Taunton.

Wyden said the latest legal challenge would not stop the tribe, which traces its ancestry to Native Americans, which the Pilgrims encountered centuries ago, but which was only federally recognized in 2007.

According to Weiden, just ahead of last month’s decision, Tribe extended its deal with one of its Malaysian casino developer partners, Genting Berhad, for another year.

But he said the tribe, which has about 3,000 members, is looking to reach new financial terms to rein in its debt to the gambling giant, which is increasing by another $600 million, but which only if Comes when a gambling hall actually opens. Company spokespersons did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Wyden said tribal members should also consider whether to downplay their casino ambitions.

Before the litigation and the Trump administration’s order derailed it, Tribe broke ground in 2016 At a $1 billion resort casino in a former industrial park. Dubbed First Light, the resort included a hotel and shopping, dining, and entertainment options, including a water park.

Opting to build a more modest slot parlor or bingo hall, Wyden said, it would be exempt from a 17% state tax on gaming revenue, even if that meant not being able to offer popular table games like blackjack and poker.

Wyden said the tribe should also not rule out abandoning the casino scheme altogether and finding other ways to bring financial stability to the tribe. He wants it to open tax-free smoke shops, tax-free gas stations, recreational marijuana shops, and other economic development initiatives on his land.

“We need to exercise our sovereignty,” Weiden said. “Casinos are just the low-hanging fruit.”

The new chair says they intend to focus more on homelessness, substance abuse and other social ills facing the tribe.

Next month, tribal leaders expect a plan to spend the tribe’s nearly $15 million allocation from Biden’s coronavirus stimulus bill to be presented to members. Weyden says they will also pursue federal funding through a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill recently signed into law, which includes about $11 billion for tribes.

Weeden said projects being considered include building tiny houses or cabins where homeless members can live temporarily. The tribe also hopes to promote staffing and programming for substance abuse, mental health, and other critical health services.

And with the national reckoning for reparations for black slavery reviving racism, Wyden said the tribe also intends to pursue its own calls for reinstatement.

They say that the state should return the confiscated lands or provide financial compensation as the tribe’s existing holdings represent less than 1% of its ancestral area.

“Whatever is going on around social injustice and racial injustice in this country is all well and good,” Weyden said. “But the natives of this country are still fighting for the little land we have. Native Americans still don’t have their fair share.”