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April 1, 2013

Competing timelines sway Massachusetts tribe's casino bid

BOSTON — The Mashpee Wampanoag have 12 millennia of history behind them, but whether their history to come includes a Massachusetts-licensed casino depends now on what a state commission believes will happen in the tribe’s near future.

Lawmakers gave the tribe exclusive rights to southeastern Massachusetts’ only casino license, but the Massachusetts Gaming Commission is considering opening the region to other bidders.

The Wampanoag’s would-be competitors say the tribe faces so many legal and bureaucratic obstacles that it won’t open a casino for a decade, if ever. But the tribe says it’s making historic progress and plans to open its $500 million casino in Taunton in 2015.

The commission is left to decide which timeline will be most accurate. Commission Chairman Steve Crosby fretted over the task after he heard from both sides at a March 21 commission meeting.

Crosby offered that lawmakers clearly want to give the tribe a chance to make things work but don’t want to give them forever. “And they are leaving it up to us to determine what forever is,” he said.

“They would want us to understand how long this is going to take and make a decision based on that,” he said. “And I don’t know how we ever figure that out.”

He has said he hopes the commission will vote by mid-April.

The state’s 2011 casino law created a casino license for each of three geographic regions and gave exclusivity to the Wampanoag in the southeast. But the commission can open the area to other bidders if it determines the tribe’s plans won’t work.

Tribal chairman Cedric Cromwell has indicated that if bidding is opened, the tribe will stop pursuing a state license — eliminating any chance of state revenues from the project — and seek gambling rights exclusively through the federal government.

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