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Casino Gets Town's OK

Money was the deciding factor in the almost two-to-one vote by which Middleborough town meeting members yesterday said yes to a casino deal that proposes to give the town $11 million a year. Mashpee Wampanoag leaders call the outcome an invitation to come home but acknowledge that there are many hurdles yet to come and it may be years — if ever — before the first roll of the dice. WBUR's Martha Bebinger has more.

Story Transcript:

MARTHA BEBINGER: Middleborough voters began setting up chairs under vast white tents or on the high school's open athletic fields hours before yesterday's special town meeting on the casino proposal. As they waited, tensions erupted about whether a casino would be good for the town, who has the most accurate facts and who has the town's best interests at heart.

ARGUING VOTERS: As usual, you guys twist everything...am I a Middleborough citizen, do I have children...well I don't know...

BEBINGER: By the time the meeting started, just over 3,700 voters had gathered. Organizers had expected thousands more, but said the heat, humidity and prospect of a long day in the sun kept many people away. Moderator James Thomas moved quickly to the day's main issue.

JAMES THOMAS: Article 2 is before you...

BEBINGER: Casino supporters argued the $11 million a year will help Middleborough restore teaching jobs, rebuild roads, save school sports, keep the library open and still leave money to preserve open space and fund other economic development projects. Tony Lawrence says Middleborough won't have another opportunity like this.

TONY LAWRENCE: This is a generous deal. Like a Thanksgiving turkey, this deal is stuffed with extra money. Vote yes for Middleborough's future, and please pass the stuffing.

BEBINGER: Casino opponents countered that town won't get as much money as the Mashpee offer promises, that the deal does not take into account road and public safety costs the town will have to fund and that Middleborough's quaint, laid back charm will be lost forever.

Jackie Tolosco says she lives in Middleborough because it a wholesome, safe place to raise her children.

JACKIE TOLOSCO: And in a few short months it could all be destroyed. Our town has a spending problem, not a revenue problem and a casino is not the answer. (applause)

BEBINGER: Volunteers collected paper ballots with either a "yes" or "no" in cardboard boxes spray painted black, and piled them in the back of a pickup truck. While the counting was underway in the high school cafeteria, the town meeting took up a separate non-binding referendum casino opponents had placed on the agenda. On this question — should the town of Middleborough support a casino — the vote, by a show of hands was no. But many casino supporters had already left. When the ballot vote tally on the Mashpee casino deal was returned, the tribe and casino supporters celebrated an almost two-to one victory. Mashpee tribal council chairman Glenn Marshall signed the host agreement with Middleborough selectmen moments after the vote was announced.

GLENN MARSHALL: I can't say how happy we are. This is one more step in making sure the tribe has its home back, you know.

BEBINGER: Calling Middleborough "home" is a preview of one of the Mashpees' next steps: asking the federal government to designate its 325 acres in Middleborough land as part of the tribe's reservation. The tribe expects to start that process with what's called a land-into-trust application sometime next month. Kevin Washburn, a visiting professor at Harvard Law School, says that application is one of two hurdles the tribe must clear before it can build a casino in Middleborough.

KEVIN WASHBURN: The other is to have a compact with the state, an agreement with the state regarding their gaming. Absent that compact, the state can only conduct bingo.

BEBINGER: To run anything beside bingo slot machines, which are a step below coin slots, the tribe will have to persuade Governor Deval Patrick to support casinos. He's expected to issue a decision on his position by Labor Day. In the Legislature, the House has consistently rejected casino-style gambling. The Mashpees land-into-trust application could take three to four years. But Washburn says the federal government may be inclined to speed things up...after having taken 33 years to review the Mashpees' federal recognition application.

WASHBURN: This tribe has been in line for a long time to get recognition and to get land for economic development.

BEBINGER: Even if that process if speeded up, a ribbon cutting on a casino is far from certain.

For WBUR, I'm Martha Bebinger.

This program aired on July 29, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

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