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Lawmakers Opt Against Deadline On Mashpee’s Land Bid

BOSTON — A committee of state lawmakers on Monday opted not to impose a deadline on the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe’s bid to build a casino in Taunton. This was after the governor’s office also tried to negotiate a time limit for the tribe to secure sovereign land.

“Nonetheless, we went forward and negotiated this compact as the Legislature required us to do, and did so in the best way possible, trying to mitigate the possibilities of litigation,” said Mo Cowan, Gov. Deval Patrick’s chief of staff. “Only time will tell whether litigation follows and, if there is litigation, what success it may have.”

The new state law gives first dibs to federally recognized Native American tribes proposing casinos. That’s so the tribes will share revenue with the state, and the state can control the number of casinos in the commonwealth. The law allows for three full casinos — one in each of three regions.

Lawmakers like Rep. Shaunna O’Connell say the state should work with the tribe.

“The Wampanoag tribe has stated that it will move forward with their plans for a casino, regardless of whether the Massachusetts Gaming Commission decides to put region C license out to bid,” she said. “And that may result in two casinos [in the southeastern region].”

But New Bedford Rep. Robert Koczera says it will never come to that. He says the tribe won’t be able to get sovereign land without years of legal battles. He suggested giving the tribe a two-year deadline to get land in trust, before putting the license out to bid for a commercial casino.

“It would be a crime to the people of southern Massachusetts if two years from today they still can’t get that land-in-trust question resolved. It would be a crime,” he said.

Tribal members at Monday’s committee hearing called the deadline inappropriate for a sovereign nation. And lawmakers rejected the deadline for fear that it would kill the deal with the tribe.

The legislative committee did approve the compact. It now goes to the House and Senate. It has to pass before July 31.

Updated with the Morning Edition feature version of this story

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