Mass. panel approves tribal casino compact
BOSTON (AP) -- A casino compact between Gov. Deval Patrick and the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, stalled for months on Beacon Hill, got a push forward on Tuesday when a legislative panel approved the agreement.
The vote, coming at a meeting of the economic development committee held in Springfield, clears the way for the full Legislature to act on the compact, which would guarantee the state a share of between 15 and 21 percent of gambling proceeds if a tribal casino is built in Taunton.
"We believe this agreement will keep our world-class destination resort casino on track," said tribal chairman Cedric Cromwell after the action by lawmakers. He said Massachusetts would receive more than $2 billion in revenue from the casino over a 20-year period.
Also Tuesday, votes on proposed gambling facilities were being held in West Springfield and Plainville, further steps in an accelerating process that could lead to the awarding of the first Massachusetts gambling licenses in the coming months.
Patrick reached the revised agreement with the Mashpee in March after an earlier agreement was approved by the Legislature only to be rejected by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. The governor has said he is confident the new agreement will pass muster with the federal agency.
Lawmakers, however, appeared to be in no rush to act on the revised compact. A hearing was held in May, during which some southeastern Massachusetts legislators questioned whether the tribe would ever be able to clear all of the legal obstacles standing in the way of its casino hopes.
In addition to the compact, the tribe must win federal land-in-trust approval that some experts believe could be tied up for years in litigation. The tribe has expressed confidence that it will receive all the necessary approvals by next year.
The state's 2011 casino gambling law carved out exclusivity for the Mashpee in the southeast region, but the Massachusetts Gaming Commission decided in April to allow commercial developers to also submit bids in the region, citing the uncertainty over the tribe's progress.
The referendum in West Springfield was on a host community agreement that called for Hard Rock to make minimum annual payments of $18 million a year to the city if a casino is built at the Eastern States Exposition.
Nathan Bech, head of the group No Casino West Springfield, was hoping voters would reject the plan.
"It's really an unfair deal for the taxpayers and it's a drain on the local economy," said Bech, whose group also worries about the potential for increased crime and traffic.
A favorable vote would likely put Hard Rock in competition for the sole western Massachusetts resort casino license with proposals from MGM Resorts in Springfield and Mohegan Sun in the town of Palmer. Springfield voters approved a host community agreement in July and Palmer residents are scheduled to vote Nov. 5 on a proposed deal.
In Plainville, residents Tuesday were deciding whether to move forward with a proposed slots parlor at the state's only harness race track.
The plan was nearly scuttled when the commission disqualified the current owners of the Plainridge track from competing for a slots parlor after a background check raised questions about the firm's business practices.
But the panel allowed Tuesday's vote to go forward after another company, Penn National Gaming, moved in last week with a plan to honor a previously negotiated host community agreement and purchase the track if it was awarded the state's only slots parlor license.