Middleborough – Reports that Governor Deval Patrick was poised to begin negotiating a contract, or compact, with the Mashpee Wampanoag for a casino in Middleborough caused some ripples of concern across Southeastern Massachusetts this week.
According to the Statehouse News Service, Patrick on Monday had said that, although he expects no additional casino legislation to be forthcoming this session, „some form of expanded gaming is coming because the tribe has some tribal rights to that, and we want to be ahead of that, and we’d like that to be within the framework we define rather than having it defined for us.“
Some news organizations reported that the governor was ready to begin negotiating a compact. But on Tuesday, Patrick told reporters his intentions were overstated in the media the previous day. He said he is not negotiating a compact now, and he has no plans, at the moment, to negotiate a casino compact.
The governor’s spokeswoman, Kofi Jones, issued a statement Tuesday saying the governor continues to meet with the Wampanoag tribe as members move forward with their application to place 550 acres in Middleborough in federal trust. A massive environmental impact study that is part of the application process is already underway.
„As a sovereign nation, the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe will have rights to open a casino on any federally recognized land, and it is in the best interests of the Commonwealth for the administration to remain in active conversations with respect to their plans,“ Jones said.
Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southeast Regional Planning and Economic Development District, said he had assumed, when the governor’s casino bill failed in March, that Patrick would turn his attention to the Mashpee Wampanoag casino proposal.
„It’s probably responsible to negotiate a compact now, but it’s still a concern for the communities surrounding the casino site that they will have no say at the table,“ Smith said.
„They have to rely solely on the governor to speak for the region. While we have faith in the governor, the temptation will be to spread the benefits across the state rather than focus where the impact will be.“
Those in Southeastern Massachusetts continue to fear their area of the state isn’t going to get what it needs when a compact is struck between the state and the tribe. They argue much of the casino proceeds that are given to the state should be channeled to the communities that would bear the brunt of the impact of that billion-dollar operation.
Normally a state gets as much as 25 percent of the revenue from such a casino operation.
It would not be unusual for Patrick to hammer out a deal with the tribe at this stage in the process. In 1995, then-governor William Weld made a compact with the Aquinnah Wampanoag, of Gay Head, for a targeted casino site in New Bedford that never panned out.
Meanwhile, the Mashpee Wampanoag appear to want to bargain on their own schedule. „The tribe has been clear it in tends to seek a compact, and the tribe will do so at the appropriate time,“ said tribe spokeswoman Amy Lambiaso. She would not say when the appropriate time might be, but did not deny it will probably be when the Bureau of Indian Affairs process is either complete or further along.
The Regional Task Force on Casino Impacts, a coalition of 26 towns surrounding Middleborough, met with state officials late last summer and asked for a seat at the negotiation table when a compact is hammered out. No response was ever given to that request.
West Bridgewater selectmen chairman Matthew Albanese, a member of the Regional Task Force, believes it is still too early to negotiate a compact „because federal recognition isn’t a slam dunk at this point.“
„At the same time, I hope any proposal will be vetted before those whom it will impact the most,“ Albanese said. He expects the task force to set a meeting soon to discuss progress of the Middleborough casino proposal, now that work on next year’s budgets has been completed.
Even though Middleborough already has an USD 11-million-per-year deal with the Mashpee Wampanoag, Selectman Adam Bond said his town will also be looking for further funding in the state contract. „All of this support [from Middleborough] was done based on the expectation of further remuneration from the state,“ Bond said.
„My view is Middleborough should get 2 percent and abutters 1 percent.“
Casino opponent Richard Young, president of Casinofacts and Casino Free Massachusetts, said officials are getting overly concerned about the possibility of compact negotiations at this stage. „Even if the governor negotiates a compact, unless the Bureau of Indian Affairs puts the land into trust, it doesn’t mean anything,“ he said.
Meanwhile, Middleborough selectmen signed a letter to the Bureau of Indian Affairs on Monday that adds sections of Plymouth Street, Summer Street, Precinct Street, and Meadowbrook Lane to the Indian Reservation Road Inventory being submitted as part of the application to place the casino site into federal trust.