The Casino Bill and the Mashpee Wampanoags: Ready, set, GO!

After years of political bickering, wrestling, and wrangling, the time has finally come. Casinos are going to be legal in Massachusetts. Governor Deval Patrick could seal the deal as soon as today, signing legislation to authorize three resort casinos plus a slots parlor in the state (that noise you hear is John Winthrop screaming from the great beyond). Without a doubt, it’s going to change things around here.

But no group is going to be — or has already been — nearly as affected by all this as the Mashpee Wampanoag Indian tribe. Ever since the Mashpee received federal recognition in 2007 — and therefore the right to pursue a casino — the Cape Cod tribe has, well, it’s been through it. Its members have seen a leader exposed as a fraud, thief, and convicted rapist and sent to jail. They’ve had well laid casino plans derailed seemingly time and again. And perhaps worst of all, the tribe, which faces nearly 50 percent unemployment, has seen the economy crater around it. Things have not been good in Mashpee. But tribe leaders see hope in the casino. They view it, and all the money that would come with it, as a way to turn things around.

As I chronicle in this month’s magazine, with the stroke of his pen, Patrick will set the Mashpees in a race against the clock. According to the bill, they have until July 31, 2012 to meet a host of difficult requirements and, if they don’t, could lose out on their shot at a casino. Obviously, tribal chairman Cedric Cromwell has a load on his hands to just meet the bill’s deadline. But considering all of the dissent within his tribe, his most difficult task may be just holding the Mashpee Wampanoags together.