$316,000 Federal Grant To Aid Tribe With New Government

Posted in: Mashpee
By BRIAN H. KEHRL
Jun 1, 2007 - 9:42:26 AM
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The first tangible financial benefit of federal recognition for the Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Tribal Council is in the pipeline, according to a spokesman for the US Bureau of Indian Affairs.
A $316,000 grant for newly recognized tribes to get their new governments up and running will be forthcoming for the 1,400-plus member Mashpee tribe, the spokesman, Nedra Darling, said last week.
The tribal council will likely use the money to cover administrative costs for its new and expanded programs, including healthcare and housing services, according to interviews with tribal council leaders and a spokesman.
Amy Lambiaso, the spokesman for the tribal council, said the tribe’s political leaders have not yet received the new tribe money.
The six-digit federal grant, however, is but a fraction of the hundreds of millions the tribe’s leaders are hoping to reap from a casino and entertainment complex.
The public debate about gambling took an unexpected turn last week, though, when state Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill announced his desire to see the state get into the casino business on different terms than those pitched by the tribe—by legalizing gaming and allowing private developers to operate casinos in the state.
The tribe’s political leaders and financial investors are in the process of determining where the casino will be located, with Middleboro and New Bedford now seeming to be the frontrunners, all while waiting for Governor Deval L. Patrick and the state Legislature to decide what sort of casino the tribe will be allowed to operate.
For the tribe to open a full-fledged, Las Vegas-style casino, as tribal leaders have expressed interest in doing, the state Legislature will have to legalize Class III games, which include slot machines and house-banked poker. However, even if the Legislature takes no action, the tribe’s political leaders have said that they will pursue a casino with only Class II games, such as high stakes bingo played on slot-type electronic machines and non-house-banked poker in which gamblers play against each other rather than the house.
Governor Patrick has convened a study group to look into the gaming and release a report sometime late this summer.
In a speech to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Cahill argued that revenue from the Massachusetts Lottery is expected to flatten, a development that he blamed in part on commonwealth residents heading to the casinos in Connecticut and the slot parlors in Rhode Island.
“We here in New England have always been slightly embarrassed by our per capita spending on gaming. I propose that we stop apologizing and take advantage of it,” Mr. Cahill said, according to a transcript of his speech posted on the treasurer’s department website.
“All things considered, the net societal and economic impact of resort casinos on states and their cities have been overwhelmingly positive,” he said. “Empirical evidence has demonstrated that many of the expected costs tend to be overstated, while long-term benefits are often under-appreciated.”
Ms. Lambiaso said, “The tribe was glad to see that the treasurer is embracing bringing casinos to Massachusetts, and we will look forward to working with him, along with the governor.”
The state cannot tax the tribe’s casino. It can, however, under certain circumstances, negotiate for a portion of the revenue. If the tribe opens a Class II casino, the state would likely not receive any share of the revenue. If the Legislature changes current law to allow the tribe to offer Class III gaming, it would likely be able to negotiate a revenue-sharing agreement and secure a set percentage of the casino’s profits for the state government.
The treasurer’s speech came on the same day as the tribe received recognition, and was leaked to The Boston Globe ahead of time so that the region’s largest newspaper ran a story about Mr. Cahill’s speech on the Mashpee’s first day as an Indian tribe in the eyes of the federal government.
Alison Mitchell, a spokesman for the treasurer, said on Tuesday that the timing was merely coincidental and was not meant to take away from the tribe’s recognition. “It was just one of those weird coincidences,” she said.
Ms. Lambiaso said the tribe’s leadership did not read any significance into the timing of the speech.
In spite of the press coverage of Mr. Cahill’s announcement that has highlighted a sort of race to beat the Mashpee tribe to the punch in opening a casino—an argument that fails to acknowledge that the tribe would be allowed to open a full casino soon afterward, that first does not necessarily mean more successful, and that the tribe would then not owe the state any share of its revenue—Ms. Mitchell said that the treasurer was focused less on competing with the Mashpee tribe than on fostering economic development and providing local aid to towns and cities.
Mr. Cahill said, “I would argue that if we act now before we are forced to by the Indian Gaming Act, we can extract significantly more tax revenue than Connecticut.”
Ms. Mitchell said the treasurer wanted only to begin a conversation about the possibility of the state pursuing a separate casino, but the decision is in the hands of the state Legislature.
Ms. Lambiaso said, “I don’t think it has to be competition at all. The tribe’s goals and the commonwealth’s goal are the same. The tribe looks forward to sitting down with all parties to discuss moving forward.”
The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) on Martha’s Vineyard, the state’s only other federally recognized tribe, has in the past expressed interest in a casino as well, though its efforts in the 1990s fell short. Aquinnah leaders have remained quiet in the media while the Mashpee leaders have assumed a more vocal, public role during the final stages of federal recognition.
Mashpee tribal leaders are looking at 2010 as a target date for opening the casino, though no financial matters are tied to that date, according to Ms. Lambiaso.
Ms. Lambiaso said the tribe’s investors, led by Herbert Strather, have not yet finalized the purchase of either of the two large parcels of land in Middleboro to which they hold exclusive purchasing rights. The 125 acres that the investors bid on at a public auction in April must be fully purchased by June 11. And there is no time line to finalize the deal for the abutting 200-acre property that the investors may purchase from a private landowner, she said.