Decision on tribal casino will bring certainty to market

Posted Aug. 26, 2015 at 7:19 PM
Updated Aug 26, 2015 at 7:21 PM

The major wildcard looming over the Massachusetts casino market could soon be resolved.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs, in an Aug. 21 letter to Taunton City Council President Estele Borges, states that a decision will be made within 30 days on the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe’s application to have land taken into trust to establish a reservation in Taunton, where tribal leaders hope to build a casino.

Questions as to whether the tribe meets the legal qualifications to have land taken into trust have long complicated the Massachusetts Gaming Commission’s process for licensing a commercial casino in the southeastern region, which the commission has designated “Region C.”

Concerned about oversaturating the market, the Massachusetts gambling regulators initially held off on accepting applications for a commercial casino in Region C, setting it behind the rest of the state. As the Mashpee proposal languished in red tape, however, the Gaming Commission eventually decided to accept applications.

“As stated previously, the Commission will conduct a thorough and comprehensive evaluation of the commercial application in Region C,” Gaming Commission spokeswoman Elaine Driscoll said in an email. “At that time, the Commission will also take into consideration the totality of factors affecting Region C before making a final license determination.”

Commissioners have stressed in the past that they will evaluate market conditions, including the likelihood of a tribal casino in Taunton, before deciding whether to license a casino in Region C.

The only remaining applicant for a commercial casino in Region C, Mass Gaming and Entertainment, did not return requests for comment by press time. The company, a subsidiary of Rush Street Gaming, is pursuing a casino in Brockton.

After a proposal for a New Bedford casino collapsed last month, the developer behind that venture cited the uncertain prospect of a competing tribal casino in the region as a factor.

“The reluctance of lenders to provide the requisite financing is due to several factors, including the possibility of competition from a nearby Indian casino which would pay no taxes or other compensation to the Commonwealth,” KG Urban Inc. principal Barry Gosin wrote in a July 22 letter informing the Gaming Commission of his firm’s decision to abandon its proposed New Bedford casino.

In nearby Plainville, the operators of Plainridge Park Casino, the sole slots parlor in Massachusetts, say they’re not focused on the potential for another competitor.

“It would be inappropriate for us to comment on what action the Interior Department might take,” Eric Schippers, senior vice president for Penn National Gaming, said in a statement. “Our focus remains on generating jobs and revenue for the Commonwealth at Plainridge Park.”

The first and, to date, only gambling facility to open in Massachusetts, Plainridge Park Casino generated more than $18.1 million in gambling revenue in July. Plainridge opened June 24 and has paid the state more than $8.8 million in taxes and assessments.

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