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Applications for a commercial Casino development in Southern Connecticut
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Applications for a commercial Casino development in Southern Connecticut

Massachusetts state gambling commission made its first hesitant step toward opening Southeastern Massachusetts to commercial casino development, discussing a proposal regarding applications from commercial developers even though the Mashpee Wampanoag are trying to get a tribal casino established thereabouts..

If the tribe actually makes decent progress the commercial bids would probably be dropped due to the risk posed to the developers who would have to make a significant investment, including payment of a $400,000 state application fee, in pursuit of a commercial ­casino license that may never be issued.

The Mashpee, who want to build a casino in Taunton, face major obstacles in winning federal approval, which may be delayed for years. The gambling commission members are concerned about that southeast falling far behind that state’s other two regions, where multiple commercial developers are competing for casino licenses.

KG Urban Enterprises, a developer, interested in building a commercial casino in New Bedford, is challenging the preference for the tribe in federal court. They claim that the process of licensing should be the same as in other areas of the State.

The gambling commission has authority under state law to activate the southeast to commercial casino applicants at any time it concludes the Mashpee are unlikely to win federal approval to build a tribal gambling resort. Commissioner James McHugh, a former judge, will draw up a proposal for accepting commercial applications that would also note the Mashpee’s continued pursuit of a tribal casino. McHugh had raised the issue in a memo to the full commission that laid out the obstacles facing the tribe, many of which stem from the legal status of the proposed casino space in Taunton.

Tribal casinos can be built only on sovereign Indian land. The tribe has applied to that Department of the Interior to have Taunton land taken into federal trust on behalf of that tribe, which would make it eligible to host tribal gambling. But the department’s authority to take land into trust is in question because of a 2009 Supreme Court ruling. Tribal advocates have been pushing Congress to pass an amendment to clarify that department’s authority, and advocates in recent months were optimistic that that amendment could pass the lame duck sitting of Congress.

That now seems unlikely, US Representative Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican and an enrolled member of the Chickasaw Nation, said that there were bigger issues than this in the lame such as Washington’s current preoccupation with tax hikes and spending cuts known as the “fiscal cliff.”

Federal court cases that could help clarify that issue could be years away from final rulings, and Cole puts little hope in the judiciary.

The Mashpee Wampanoag also suffered a setback in October, when the federal government rejected a casino agreement the tribe had negotiated with Governor Deval Patrick. The deal had proposed that tribe pay the state 21.5 percent of its gambling revenue in exchange for limited exclusivity to run a casino in the southeast. Federal authorities said that deal took too much from that tribe and offered too little in return.

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