Patrick: Casino Deal With Tribe Among Best In U.S.
An agreement calling for the state to receive 21.5 percent of gambling revenue from a tribal casino, though less than its share of any future commercial casino revenue, would nonetheless be among the most lucrative deals negotiated by any state with a Native American tribe, Gov. Deval Patrick said Thursday.
The 53-page document, which spells out conditions for the tribe and the state as the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe pursues a resort casino in Taunton, was signed by Patrick and tribal leaders on Thursday and was filed with the Legislature. Lawmakers have until July 31 to approve the casino compact if the tribe is to retain exclusive rights to develop a casino in southeastern Massachusetts.
The U.S. Department of the Interior must also sign off on the deal.
In the compact, Massachusetts acknowledges that granting exclusivity to the tribe is "financially detrimental" to the state because the state could reap greater revenue from a commercial casino, which would be taxed at 25 percent under the state's new gambling law. But the state contends the compact would bring the Mashpee closer to self-sufficiency and avoid the prospect of competing resort casinos in the southeastern region.
Patrick, a Democrat, defended the 21.5 percent revenue allocation as one of the "more valuable" casino compacts in the nation.
Clyde Barrow, an expert in gaming policy at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, said the state's percentage of gross gaming revenue would exceed that of any other tribal casino agreement. Connecticut, for example, collects 25 percent of slot machine revenue at the Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos, which effectively translates to 17.5 percent of gross gaming revenue, he said.
Other states collect less than 10 percent of gaming revenue from tribal casinos, Barrow added.
The Massachusetts compact, however, would not set a minimum annual payment to the state. Connecticut has an $80 million floor.
The tribe still faces major hurdles, including a requirement that the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs place the Taunton land into trust, a process that could take two years or longer.
A New Bedford developer hoping to build a commercial casino in that city warned lawmakers that approval of the compact with the Mashpee could result in southeastern Massachusetts being "frozen out" while the rest of the state enjoys the economic benefits of casino gambling.
Andrew Stern, managing director of KG Urban Enterprises, argued that because the tribe has no Indian lands of its own, it would not be eligible to have the land in Taunton taken into federal trust.
"Approving a compact with a landless tribe makes no sense," Stern said in a statement.
But Patrick said Thursday he would work with the tribe toward a "prompt resolution" of the land issues.
"We are going to move this process along as quickly as possible," he said, adding that he was not convinced that the lengthy process would allow casino projects in other parts of the state to overtake southeastern Massachusetts.
Patrick also said Thursday that revenues from the tribal casino that are allocated to transportation improvements could help facilitate funding for a long-stalled project to extend commuter rail to Taunton, New Bedford and Fall River.