Gov. Deval Patrick and Mashpee Wampanoag leaders signed a deal Thursday that will pay the state 21.5 percent of gross gambling revenue from a Taunton casino and sent it to the state Legislature for approval.

The 56-page agreement, known as a compact, was released by the governor’s office Wednesday hours after it was signed by Patrick and tribal council Chairman Cedric Cromwell and Vice Chairman Aaron Tobey at the Statehouse. It sets the groundwork for the tribe to pursue its $500 million casino in Taunton, where it proposes three hotels, restaurants, retail shops and a water park.

“The House and Senate (Thursday) referred the gaming compact to the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies,” Senate President Therese Murray and House Speaker Robert DeLeo said in a joint statement. “We expect the committee to schedule a hearing in short order. We await its report.”

The Legislature has until July 31 to act.

The compact includes a provision that the state will help the tribe negotiate a deal by 2013 to codify aboriginal hunting and fishing rights on public lands and property owned by the tribe.

It’s a unique provision, Steven Light, an Indian gaming expert at the University of North Dakota, said in an email, because states often ask for tribes to give up those rights in exchange for a compact — a trend he finds problematic.

Cromwell has been unavailable for comment on the compact since it was announced on Wednesday.

Patrick, at a Beacon Hill press conference videotaped by the State House News Service, said the compact provides “good jobs and good revenue,” even though the amount the tribe will pay is 3.5 percent less than commercial casinos will be taxed.

Before a meeting in Lakeville Thursday, Stephen Crosby, chairman of the state gaming commission, which will have regulatory oversight of the project, said the deal strikes the balance between the rights of the tribe and the goals of the state.

“This 21.5 percent as opposed to zero is one way to look at it,” Crosby said.

At his press conference, Patrick defended the deal. “It’s a tribal compact which is more valuable to this state, I believe, than any other compact is to any other state,” Patrick said.

The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs can reject a compact if it believes a state is taking too much revenue from a tribe without making enough concessions.

 

‘Unjust’ concessions

A key factor, Light said after reviewing the compact, will be whether the exclusivity provided in the compact in the Southeastern Massachusetts region is enough of an economic benefit to the tribe.

At least one other federally recognized tribe in Massachusetts, the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), believes the answer to that question will be no.

“Although the Aquinnah tribe congratulates its Mashpee cousins for reaching this threshold, it is unfortunate that the compact appears to wring unjust and burdensome concessions from the Mashpee that are highly unlikely to pass muster under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act,” Aquinnah Chairwoman Cheryl Andrews-Maltais wrote in an email. “In very rare cases, courts have upheld tribal casino revenue payments to states, but only when the payments are in exchange for clear value, such as geographic exclusivity, which is not the case in Massachusetts.”

In fact, the deal does not protect the Mashpee Wampanoag from a slot parlor being located in the region, administration officials said. Both Raynham Park in Raynham and Plainridge Racecourse in Plainville are expected to bid on the slot license.

The Aquinnah tribe has land under agreement in Freetown and Lakeville where it wants to build an Indian casino, but the state has been unwilling to negotiate with the tribe and recent votes in both towns rejected the idea.

“Perhaps it is just as well that Gov. Patrick refuses to negotiate with Aquinnah because Aquinnah would not, indeed it could not, agree to many of the provisions in the compact,” Andrews-Maltais said.

 

‘Prompt resolution’

Patrick said the intention is to have not any more than one casino in any of the three regions and the compact accomplishes that goal. “There has been some worry out there that because the land-in-trust process can take a long time that the other regions movement or advancement would overtake the tribal facility over time; I’m not certain that’s the case,” he said. “But the risk on the other side is if we don’t allow some reasonable amount of time, we could wind up with two facilities in (Southeastern Massachusetts), which I think everyone feels is saturation.”

Patrick said he has already reached out to the deputy secretary of the federal Department of the Interior to let them know the deal has been reached. “I’m going to be working with the tribe to get prompt resolution in the department of interior and the (Bureau of Indian Affairs) on both the compact and the land in trust.”

If the gaming commission finds that the tribe won’t be able to take land into trust, it can put the Southeastern Massachusetts license out to competitive bid. The compact puts no deadline on the tribe to get the necessary federal approvals, which critics say could tie up the license for years.

The compact includes a provision that if the Taunton land is rejected, the tribe can “identify alternative land” in Southeastern Massachusetts to be acquired in trust for a casino.

by George Brennan