Deval Patrick Was for Gaming Before He Was Against It

Considering that the state has a significant economic interest in the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s effort to put the land for their planned casino in Middlebrough into federal trust, it’s no surprise that Gov. Deval Patrick officially filed his opposition yesterday with the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

If the tribe is blocked from pursuing a casino on sovereign land, they will be forced to participate in Patrick’s proposed plan to auction off three state gaming licenses. If they’re granted the land, then they’re home free to open a casino outside of state control. So the state’s motives seem fairly straight forward.

The operative question, given the state’s obvious economic agenda, is will the Bureau of Indian Affairs view Patrick’s opposition seriously, or dismiss it as just self-interested jockeying?

How about both?

It’s easy to view Patrick’s opposition with cynicism—it’s not like the governor is against casinos. But Kathryn Rand, an indian gaming expert at the University of North Dakota School of Law, says it’s not cause to completely dismiss the commonwealth’s objections.

It’s hardly unique, she said, for states to oppose tribes taking land into trust on the grounds of “competitive economics.”

“The state opposition is going to create another hurdle for the tribe,” she said. “It will make it less likely for the land to be put into trust.”

Nevertheless, Rand added that Patrick’s opposition is hardly a death knell for the tribe’s application. Part of the reason is the specific nature of the state’s opposition.

In logging his protest, Patrick picked on detailed and distinct issues, including environmental, health, and safety concerns. These aren’t overriding philosophical differences—they’re more nuts and bolts issues that can be worked out.

For that reason, at least one person close to the situation thinks this is little more than the state laying out their chips and setting the table for future negotiations with the tribe. The two sides are probably going to have to come to strike some sort of deal.

“They’re pointing towards a compact, and I actually think it’s a pretty smart position for them to take,” the source said. “Think about their options: they couldn’t say we’re not in favor of gambling in Massachusetts…They went very fine, into specifics.”

After all, the Mashpee and the state have long been tussling for leverage. Last fall the Mashpee started making noise about dropping out of the state process (even though it was never a real possibility) to try to spur the state to faster action. Now the state is swinging back at the Mashpee.

It’s all about leverage when (and if) the two sides do eventually have to sit down and hammer out a deal. Until that time comes, any noise coming out of either Patrick’s or the Mashpee’s camp should be viewed primarily as jostling.