, Salem, MA


April 1, 2013

Competing timelines sway Massachusetts tribe's casino bid


Before it can build anything, the Wampanoag need the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs to take the proposed 146-acre casino site in Taunton into trust for the tribe.

Opponents of extending the tribe’s exclusivity say a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court decision prevents the Wampanoag from getting that land because it limits the land-taking to tribes that were federally recognized before the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. The tribe, which was recognized in 2007, argues it can proceed by showing it was under federal jurisdiction as of 1934.

If the government awards the Wampanoag the land-in-trust, it will prompt immediate lawsuits that could last years, said Marsha Sajer, an attorney for KG Urban Enterprises, which wants to build a casino in New Bedford.

Washington state’s Cowlitz tribe, which also wasn’t federally recognized before 1934, has pursued land-in-trust under the same theory as the Wampanoag. And while the government did award the land in 2010, litigation has left the case unresolved a decade after it started, Sajer said.

She added that the land-in-trust process on its own is purposely long and deliberative, since casinos have such significant regional effects. As examples, she pointed to eight tribes from California to Michigan that have recently pursued land-in-trust to operate gambling facilities. Some cases stretch back a decade, and none has been resolved, she said.

History simply provides no basis for the Wampanoag’s confidence about quick approvals and construction, Sajer said.

“I think it’s optimism; I don’t think it’s reality, because they have not been able to distinguish why their situation would be any different from any other,” she said.

New Bedford state Rep. Robert Koczera said forgoing years of jobs and revenue waiting for a Wampanoag casino that won’t happen would be a travesty in the struggling region. Unemployment in its largest cities, New Bedford and Fall River, exceeds 14 percent.

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