Voters approve Middleborough casino deal

Voters in Middleborough today approved a historic agreement to bring the state’s first casino to the semi-rural town 40 miles south of Boston.

By a margin of 2,387 to 1,335, voters approved the agreement between town selectmen and the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe that calls for the town to receive at least USD 11 million a year for hosting the USD 1 billion resort casino.

„The town just took a giant step forward to preserve and enhance the town for its residents and their children,“ said Selectman Wayne Perkins.

The vote was announced at about 3 pm at a town meeting held on the high school athletic field. Town officials immediately signed the agreement.

Wampanoag Chief Glenn Marshall, after the agreement was signed, said his tribe had fought 33 years for recognition and today’s vote was the next step in that process.

„We now have a home,“ Marshall said. „The tribe’s coming back home and I can’t say how happy we are . . . „The tribe has its home back. It’s not about the casino, it’s about everything.“

Supporters of the project say the deal will be a boon to the town, bringing updated infrastructure at no cost to taxpayers, and increasing commercial development.

Opponents are worried that the casino will snarl traffic, increase crime in the area, and harm their rural community’s character.

With the favorable vote comes a pledge by the town support the casino in the next steps of the process, which could take more than a year.

The casino developers must negotiate a “compact” with Governor Deval Patrick to set terms for a waiver of the state prohibition on slot machines in exchange for the state receiving a share of slot revenues. Most legal specialists also believe the state Legislature must approve the compact.

In addition, the casino developers must petition the US Department of the Interior within weeks for approval to convert the Middleborough land into tribal reservation land. Federal law allows casinos on tribal lands. That process could take 18 months.

The voters, however, sent a mixed message. In a separate, non binding question before the town meeting, the residents voted no on a proposal to have a casino in the town. Town officials insisted that the open ended question — approved by a voice vote — had no impact on the agreement with the Wampanoags. But casino opponents were nonetheless cheered by that result.

As they arrived this morning, residents were given large yellow ballots with the town seal as they arrived at the local high school field. Many came on buses, as early as 8 a.m., carrying lawn chairs, umbrellas, and coolers as a mix of James Taylor, the Allman Brothers and the Eagles played over the loudspeakers.

Several arguments erupted and anti-casino protestors stood outside with signs as residents streamed in, but most sat on the grass and knitted or read magazines as they waited for the meeting to begin.

„It’s democracy in action,“ said Bill Marzalli, a Middleborough resident who wore an orange shirt in favor of the casino.

Just as the meeting began at 11 am, an airplane flew overhead dragging a „NO CASINO“ banner behind it. Opponents burst into applause as the meeting halted for several minutes.

Outside the entrance to the high school field, advocates on both sides of the question gathered in a free speech zone. After the meeting began, supporters and opponents addressed the crowd Temperatures hovered in the mid 80’s.

„I don’t think anybody has seen anything like this before,“ said Katie Miller, a Middleborough resident of 17 years.