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Gov. Patrick To Sign Mashpee Wampanoag Casino Deal

BOSTON — The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe is another step closer to building a casino in Taunton. On Thursday, Gov. Deval Patrick will sign a deal with the tribe laying out terms for operating a casino.

WBUR’s Bianca Vazquez Toness joined Morning Edition host Deborah Becker in the studio for more on the plan.

Deborah Becker: So what’s in this agreement? 

Bianca Vazquez Toness: Well first a little background: Because the tribe is a sovereign nation, they don’t have to get a casino license … under federal law they are permitted to open a casino when they have their own sovereign land. So the state and tribe have to come up with their own rules that would govern a potential casino.

Under this agreement, the state would get 21.5 percent of the revenues from the tribal casino. That’s slightly less than the 25 percent the state will get from the commercial operations here.

The other thing is that the casino would be non-smoking. And this is important because the state gaming law bans smoking in commercial casinos.

Here’s Mo Cowan, the governor’s chief of staff:

We wanted to make sure that gaming in the commonwealth is conducted on an even playing field for all participants.

How does this agreement compare with agreements in other states that have tribal casinos?

Connecticut, for example, got a higher cut of gambling revenue from Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun. The tribes that run those places give 25 percent of gross revenues from slots, but it’s limited to slots. And in the Mashpee case, it’s 21.5 percent of revenue from all gambling. But slots are where casinos make their money so it’s not quite clear yet which state got the better deal.

So who would oversea this Taunton casino if it does get all the approval it needs?

The tribe would set up a special tribal gaming commission made up of tribal members and that would be the first layer of oversight. And then the state’s new gaming commission would also regulate the tribe’s casino.

The state would have jurisdiction to prosecute any crimes there. That’s how it works at Mohegan Sun, Foxwoods and other tribal casinos in other states.

What happens from here?

Patrick will sign the compact [Thursday morning]; the Legislature still has to approve it. But then the tribe still has to go through this, sort of, long process, or what can be a long process, of turning the casino site in Taunton into sovereign land. And it’s actually uncommon for a state to enter into an agreement with a tribe before it does this.

Here’s Cowan again:

So the fact that we’ve done so here, we believe, will be an indication, certainly to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, that the commonwealth is serious about being a partner with the tribe and this facility.

Under this tentative agreement, the state pledges to help the tribe put the land into trust. But critics, developers who want the casino license in that southern region, say the state should work with a developer who has land now.

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