The attorney for the Wampanoag Tribe of Mashpee told a federal judge in Boston Monday that the tribe is in active negotiations with Gov. Deval Patrick over a compact that will allow it to open a casino in Taunton by 2014.
Howard M. Cooper said the Mashpee Wampanoags hoped to complete negotiations with state in less than 60 days and submit the proposed agreement to the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs for needed ratification. The first agreement between the Mashpee Wampanoags and the Patrick administration was approved in July but rejected by the Interior Department in October.
If the compact gains the needed approvals, “we expect that a casino will be up and running in Taunton in 2014,” Mr. Cooper said.
The comments came during an hour-long hearing Monday before U.S. District Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton, who is presiding over a civil case filed by a New York commercial casino developer, KG Urban Enterprises, that contests the move by the governor to set aside a casino license in southeastern Massachusetts for a federally-recognized Indian tribe.
A full hearing on the KG Urban lawsuit has been delayed, however, by a flurry of petitions filed by other parties seeking to intervene in the lawsuit, including one by the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) to have its interest in building a gaming facility on Martha’s Vineyard or elsewhere heard. That petition prompted the town of Aquinnah as well as a town taxpayer group also to file requests to intervene in the case, which has complicated the implementation of the state legislature’s 2011 decision to locate one of three casinos in southeastern Massachusetts.
Lawyers for KG Urban, both tribes, the town of Aquinnah and the taxpayer group, as well Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office, appeared at the hearing Monday.
Scott Crowell, attorney for the Vineyard Wampanoags and a longtime tribal advocate, said he believes the tribe’s right to locate a gaming facility on the Island or tribal land elsewhere is not restricted by the state law which limits the number of casinos statewide to three. He said he could forsee two gaming facilities in southeastern Massachusetts.
“The Aquinnah tribe fully supports the Wampanoags of Mashpee [to build a gaming facility], but not to the exclusion of the Aquinnah tribe,” Mr. Crowell said.
But the Patrick Administration has said it is unwilling to negotiate with the Vineyard Wampanoags because the tribe waived its sovereign rights to develop land on the Island as it saw fit in a land settlement agreement it signed in 1983.
In court Monday Judge Gorton pressed the attorneys to give him definite times in which decisions in matters related to the case might be made, including the completion of the compact between Governor Patrick and the Mashpee Wampanoags.
Loretta Lillios, an assistant attorney general representing the commonwealth, said she believed the negotiations could be completed in less than six months. But asked about the progress on the negotiations for a compact with the Mashpee Wampanoags at a State House press conference Monday, Governor Patrick said they were progressing in “bits and pieces.”
The governor brushed aside questions about the plan of the state gaming commission to take up a proposal Monday that would open the casino licensing process to commercial developers for the southeastern Massachusetts site, a move that prompted by the federal government’s rejection of the compact with the Mashpee tribe.
“Doesn’t matter what I support,” the governor told the State House News Service. “The gaming commission is independent for a reason, so I don’t have to answer questions like that.” But Mr. Patrick said he opposed a fourth casino in Massachusetts. “I don’t think four casinos is a good idea, but the gaming commission is independent and they understand that the anticipated outcome from the legislation is that we would have not more than . . . three destination resort casinos,” he said.
KG Urban has said that if issued a license it is ready to develop a casino in a closed power plant in New Bedford. At the court hearing, the developer’s attorney, Paul D. Clement, reiterated the company’s position that its constitutional right to equal protection under the law were being violated by Governor Patrick’s move to negotiate solely with a federally-recognized Indian tribe for a casino license in southeastern Massachusetts.
Judge Gorton gave K.G. Urban until Jan. 7 to amend its complaint against the state to spell out the specific section of the 2011 casino legislation that violated its constitutional rights, as well as provide answers to the petition by the Wampanoags of Aquinnah to intervene in the case. The judge set March 20, 2013 as the next public hearing on the case, and is expected to decide by that time whether to allow the petitions to intervene.
Aquinnah town counsel Ronald H. Rappaport appeared at the hearing and said the town’s motion to intervene, filed last week, is intended only to preserve its rights to argue in the case if Judge Gorton allows the Island Wampanoags to intervene. In a memorandum filed with the court, Mr. Rappaport wrote: “The town did not move to intervene earlier because, as a small municipality with a limited legal budget, it did not wish to expend its scarce financial resources in the event this court denied the Aquinnah tribe’s motion.”
Late last week after the motion was filed, Aquinnah selectman and board chairman Spencer Booker underscored the town’s position in upholding the 1983 settlement agreement.
“The tribe is looking to build a casino in the town of Aquinnah and so, as the town has in the past and as it’s looking to do again, is to hold the town accountable to the settlement agreement signed 25 years ago,” Mr. Booker said. “That’s the impetus and that’s why we [are seeking to join the lawsuit].”
Court filings outlining the town position state that the settlement agreement and a 2007 land use agreement would bar the tribe from commercial gaming in Aquinnah.
“The town qualifies for intervention as a matter of right because the Aquinnah tribe’s arguments, if successful, would eviscerate the settlement agreement to which the town is a party and has an obligation to enforce,” Mr. Rappaport wrote.
by Stephen Kurkjian