Mashpee Wampanoag Casino Project Clears Major Hurdle

The Massachusetts tribe just received a major boost from the federal government.

Project First Light Casino via the Mashpee WampanoagTribe.

Project First Light Casino via the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe.

The federal government brought the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe much closer to realizing their dream of building a casino in Taunton on Friday when they approved a request by the tribe to move their land into a trust.

The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe has talked about building a casino on their 321 acres for years since the Bureau of Indian Affairs officially recognized them in 2007, but only now does it have the real opportunity to move forward with building a resort style facility.

The move by the bureau allows the tribe to develop a resort casino on 151 acres while keeping 170 in Mashpee for non-gaming activities like conservation. Approval of the tribe’s request for a trust is tantamount to creation of a reservation. The tribe claims 2,600 registered members.

In the immediate aftermath of the announcement, the tribe indicated they plan to move forward with their plan to build a casino on the reservation.

“We’re going to build a casino in Taunton,” said Tribal Chairman Cedric Cromwell to The Herald News, the paper of record in Fall River.

The tribe’s proposal for a resort, known as Project First Light includes 150,000 square feet of gaming space, a 25,000 square foot water park, a 15,000 square foot event center, and 600 hotel rooms in two separate towers on land adjacent to Route 24.

The project is projected to act as an economic stimulus for the region. Estimates project up to 3,500 jobs when the resort is completed. Taunton is slated to receive $8 million per year in gaming revenue once the casino is completed and fully operational.

The tribe is exempt from state gaming law but they intend to honor an agreement with the state where they would pay 17 percent of gross gaming revenues to the state if granted a monopoly in the southeastern gaming market. If an additional state licensed casino is approved for the region they would pay nothing while the non-tribal casino would pay 25 percent of its revenues.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission is in the early stages of the licesnsing process for the southeastern region of the state. The lone applicant, Rush Street Gaming, is proposing a $650 million casino on the Brockton Fairgrounds. The Brockton proposal became the lone applicant when a developer backed out of a proposed waterfront casino in New Bedford.

The backers of the Brockton proposal like George Carney intend to press on with their efforts.

“Our position is that there is plenty of room for us and the tribe to survive and to do very well. We can make money with or without them. We are going to continue in our application,” said Carney in an interview with the Boston Globe.

The commission played their hand more closely to the chest with their comments on the development.

“The decision by the U.S. Department of Interior to approve land into trust is a milestone for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe. This determination provides further important information for the decisions the Commission must make in the weeks ahead. The Commission looks forward to continuing the discussion about the path forward as it relates to gaming in Southeastern Massachusetts and remains committed to making decisions that are based in the long term best interest of the Commonwealth,” said Elaine Driscoll, direector of communications for the commission.