Doubts Grow on the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe

Tick, tick, tick. It’s now been over two months since the casino bill became law and even longer since the Mashpee Wampanoag Indian tribe took up their search for a plot of land to build a resort casino on. But even as developers in other parts of the state stake out claims to sites, the tribe doesn’t seem any closer to finding a home for their planned gambling mecca. This is a big problem: according to the state’s new gaming law, the Mashpee have exclusive rights to develop a casino in the southeastern part of the state, so long as the tribe meets a series of deadlines by July 31 (the law splits the state into three regions, each to get one casino). Those requirements include securing land, winning a referendum in the community that the planned casino is located in, and negotiating a revenue splitting deal with the state. If the tribe doesn’t do all that by the end of July, then the southeastern zone is thrown open to any developer.

Until now, the Mashpee’s exclusivity was enough to scare off other casino companies. While big deal operators like Caesars Entertainment and Wynn Resorts have targeted the Boston zone, and MGM, Mohegan Sun, Ameristar Casinos, and Hard Rock International have taken aim on the western region, the southeastern part of the state has been left largely untouched. Only KG Urban Enterprises, a boutique New York casino developer, and another group, going by the name of their desired site in New Bedford, Hicks-Logan, have set their cross-hairs on southeastern Massachusetts.

Well, that looks like it’s changing. The Claremont Companies, a real estate firm based in Bridgewater, owns 170 acres in their hometown on which they’d love to open a casino. Claremont had initial talks with the Mashpee, but according to vice-president Patrick Carney, the company hasn’t had contact with the tribe since December. But Carney has started hearing from other casino operators. He wouldn’t specifically identify them, other than to say, “They’re big casino companies. I’m sure you’ve read about them in the paper.” Doing its due diligence, Claremont has started reaching out to local officials in hopes of paving the way to a casino on their land.

“Whether we speak with [the tribe] further or we speak with other companies, we’re just keeping our options open,” Carney said.

The real take-away here, though, is that, within the casino industry, doubts over the Mashpee Wampanoags’ ability to meet their deadline is growing. Before, other casino companies were staying away. Now, as July 31 gets ever closer, they’re poking around.