By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Mashpee ices casino fever

The town of Mashpee has dealt a significant blow to plans to build the world’s largest casino in Middleborough. Stephanie Vosk and George Brennan report in the Cape Cod Times that Mashpee officials have asked the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs to deny the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe’s application to place land in Mashpee and Middleborough into a trust.

Tribal leaders are not proposing to build a gambling casino in Mashpee, and, according to the Times, have repeatedly promised not to. But the application — involving 140 acres in Mashpee and 539 acres in Middleborough — leaves open the possibility that Mashpee could be targeted for gambling at some point in the future. Here’s an excerpt from the town’s letter (PDF) to the BIA:

[T]he Tribe has stated that it does not intend to offer gaming [that’s PR-speak for gambling] on the Mashpee lands. Nevertheless, this statement of intent does not guarantee that the Tribe would not, at some future date, convert use of the Mashpee lands to gaming. Without an enforceable agreement specifically defining permissable gaming activities and/or prohibiting gaming in perpetuity, the Town must assume the worst-case scenario, leaving it no choice but to oppose the Tribe’s request.

In a nice touch, the Mashpee selectmen append a letter from the Mashpee Wampanoags promising not to build a casino in their town — signed by Glenn Marshall, who stepped down as tribal chairman last summer after it was revealed he’d lied about his military record and had been convicted of sexual assault. Not too credible.

The Times story also makes a point that the media don’t bring up often enough — that the agreement signed by Middleborough selectmen with tribal leaders last summer legally prohibits the selectmen from acting in their town’s best interests. As Vosk and Brennan write: “The agreement specifies that not only can Middleboro not oppose the application, it must work on behalf of the tribe to help it pass.” That boilerplate sentence should appear in every story about the casino proposal. Incredibly, it would be illegal for the Middleborough selectmen to stand up for their town the way the Mashpee selectmen have done.

It seems odd that the tribal leaders would word their application in a way that allows the Mashpee tail to wag the Middleborough dog. Perhaps they will drop the Mashpee part of their application. But if they don’t, it sounds like this could delay the tribe’s casino plans for years.

This also undermines one of Gov. Deval Patrick’s arguments for his three-casino proposal — that a Native American-owned casino is inevitable, so the state might as well get in on the action. There’s nothing inevitable about it, and there never has been.

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  1. cdplakeville

    Another nice piece Dan. Any you know this caught casino investor… er, I mean tribal spokesman Scott Ferson off guard. This is certainly not a done deal, but it ain’t over until they get a nice “DENIED” on their application from the BIA and the state legislature gives Deval a resounding “NAY”! The fight continues until then.

  2. Anonymous

    How is it “a significant blow to plans to build the world’s largest casino in Middleborough?” What reason is there to believe that BIA is going to give much weight if any weight to Mashpee’s concerns?

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