As expected, the state Senate filed legislation this morning to establish three resort-style casinos in the state, but in a surprise it no longer sets aside one of the licenses for a qualified federally recognized tribe.
The tribal set-aside was something the Senate said it intended to include in the bill, but during a public hearing last week objections were raised about giving any one applicant a preference in the process.
For that same reason, the Senate bill, unlike the version that passed the House in April, does not provide for slots at the state’s four race tracks, state Sen. Steven Panagiotakos, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said.
“We wanted a fair, open and competitive process,” he said.
Both the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) have announced plans to build a casino in the city of Fall River. The Mashpee tribe actually has a deal with the city to purchase 300 acres with the support of Mayor Will Flanagan.
Both tribes are still welcome to apply for a casino license, Panagiotakos said.
Though both tribes say they have federal rights to offer casino gambling on reservation land, Panagiotakos points out that the process is stalled. He said the state commercial casinos would be up and running before an Indian casino could be approved, so he’s not worried about the threat of more than three casinos in the state.
A spokeswoman for the Mashpee tribe had not yet read the legislation, but said the tribe would likely comment later today.
The 123-page legislation was filed this morning by the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
Kathleen Conley Norbutt, a spokeswoman for the anti-casino group United to Stop Slots, criticized the timing of the bill’s release.
“It makes it impossible for citizen participation. They release this on the Friday of Father’s Day weekend. The process is so compressed,” Norbutt said. “I’ve never seen a rushed piece of legislation that’s been prudent.”
Legislative leaders contend the issue has been fully debated over the past two decades.
Amendments to the bill are due on Monday and the Senate is expected to begin debate on the bill Wednesday, according to a spokeswoman for Senate President Therese Murray.