Newly affirmed, tribe looks at casino plans with fresh eyes

Newly affirmed, tribe appears to be like at on line casino plans with contemporary eyes

BOSTON – As he begins his first full 12 months in workplace, the brand new head of a Massachusetts tribe says he intends to take a cautious method to playing whereas turning consideration to social challenges and different financial alternatives for its members.

Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Chairman Brian Weeden, who’s 29 and is the youngest ever to outdated the put up, stated final month’s choice by President Joe Biden’s administration to affirm the tribe’s reservation and reverse a controversial Trump-era order provides the tribe authorized footing to proceed pursuing its lengthy standing on line casino desires.

However he stated tribal leaders additionally need members to have a look at the concept with contemporary eyes, given how a lot the panorama for playing has modified.

Massachusetts at the moment has three main casinos — MGM Springfield, Encore Boston Harbor and the slot parlor Plainridge Park. The separate Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe has additionally damaged floor on a extra modest playing corridor on Martha’s Winery, although that’s been mired in authorized uncertainty. And state lawmakers are weighing laws to legalize sports activities betting in Massachusetts.

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“We’re again to the drafting board, principally,” stated Weeden, who took workplace in Might, in a wide-ranging interview Thursday. “There’s nonetheless an urge for food for gaming. It simply must be a sensible method. It must be totally different from the previous. We have to study from our errors and proceed with warning.”

In the meantime, anti-casino residents in Taunton, town the place the Mashpee Wampanoag challenge is proposed, have requested a Boston federal choose to reopen their authorized problem.

They argue, as they’ve earlier than, that the tribe wasn’t eligible for a reservation as a result of it wasn’t an formally acknowledged tribe in 1934, the 12 months the federal Indian Reorganization Act, which laid the inspiration for contemporary federal Indian coverage, turned regulation.

The opponents have additionally argued the tribe’s lands in Taunton should not have been included in its reservation as a result of they’re some 50 miles from the tribe’s residence base on Cape Cod and weren’t a part of the tribe’s historic area. The tribe’s reservation encompasses about 170 acres within the city of Mashpee and one other 150 acres acres in Taunton.

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Weeden stated the most recent authorized problem gained’t deter the tribe, which traces its ancestry to the Native Individuals whom the Pilgrims encountered centuries in the past however which was federally acknowledged solely in 2007.

Simply previous to final month’s choice, the tribe prolonged its take care of its Malaysian on line casino developer companions, Genting Berhad, for one more 12 months, in accordance with Weeden.

However he stated the tribe, which has roughly 3,000 members, is trying to attain new monetary phrases to rein in its debt to the playing large, which is about $600 million and rising, however which comes due provided that a playing corridor really opens. Firm spokespersons didn’t reply to emails in search of remark.

Weeden stated tribal members must also think about whether or not to cut back their on line casino ambitions.

Earlier than litigation and the Trump administration order derailed it, the tribe broke floor in 2016 on a $1 billion resort on line casino in a former industrial park. Dubbed First Mild, the resort was to incorporate a lodge and procuring, eating and leisure choices, together with a water park.

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Opting to construct a extra modest slot parlor or bingo corridor, Weeden stated, would exempt it from a 17% state tax on gaming revenues, even when it meant not having the ability to supply common desk video games like blackjack and poker.

Weeden stated the tribe additionally shouldn’t rule out abandoning the on line casino plan altogether and discovering different methods to convey monetary stability to the tribe. He’d prefer to see it look into opening tax-free smoke retailers, tax-free fuel stations, leisure marijuana retailers, and different financial improvement initiatives on its lands.

“We have to train our sovereignty,” Weeden stated. “Casinos are simply low-hanging fruit.”

The brand new chair says he additionally intends to focus extra on homelessness, substance use and different social ills going through the tribe.

Subsequent month, tribal leaders hope to current to members a plan to spend down the tribe’s roughly $15 million allocation from Biden’s coronavirus stimulus invoice. Weeden says they may even pursue federal funds by means of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure invoice Biden not too long ago signed into regulation, which incorporates some $11 billion for tribes.

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Among the many tasks being thought of is the development of tiny properties or cabins the place homeless members can stay briefly, Weeden stated. The tribe additionally hopes to bolster staffing and programming for substance use, psychological well being and different crucial well being providers.

And with the nationwide counting on racism reviving requires reparations for Black slavery, Weeden stated the tribe additionally intends to step up its personal requires restitution.

He says the state ought to return seized lands or present monetary compensation because the tribe’s present landholdings characterize lower than 1% of its ancestral territory.

“All the pieces occurring on this nation round social injustice and racial injustice, that’s all positive and good,” Weeden stated. “However the authentic inhabitants of this nation are nonetheless combating for what little land we now have. Native Individuals nonetheless don’t have their fair proportion.”

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