Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s First Light Casino in Doubt

First Light Casino Lawsuit - Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe

First Light Casino would cost $1 billion and be managed by Genting Group.

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s plans to bring a casino to Taunton are doubtful after the tribe withdrew its application for land acquisition in the area. Originally, the tribe sought to build First Light Resort & Casino on private land taken in Mashpee and Taunton.

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe withdrew its revised application just before the US Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs was supposed to rule on the matter on Tuesday. In September 2015, the Interior Department approved the tribe’s plan to receive into trust 170 acres in Mashpee and 151 acres in Taunton. In January 2016, the department officially declared the land a reservation.

Lawsuit against Tribal Reservation

Later that year, local property owners brought a lawsuit against the tribe’s plan, claiming the Department of the Interior erred in placing the 321 acres into trust. The case went before Federal Judge William Young, who ruled the DOI erred in declaring the land a reservation. Judge Young said the agency had misinterpreted the Indian Reorganization Act.

After the decision, both the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and the Interior Department filed appeals in the case. The tribe said it withdrew its application on Tuesday due to a request by DOI officials.

“Investigating Every Legal Option”

Both parties to the lawsuit said they plan to focus on the appeals process at the moment. The tribe said it would be “investigating every legal option” while waiting for the appeals process to reach completion. The land remains in trust until a final decision is made.

Deal with Genting Berhad

If the First Light Resort & Casino ever comes to fruition, it will be managed by Genting Malaysia Berhad, the multinational conglomerate which owns Resorts World Queens and many other casinos worldwide. Besides owning Resorts World Sentosa in Singapore, Genting has roughly $60 billion in gaming, hotels, oil platforms, and rubber planatation assets.

Genting invested $250 million in promissary notes on the deal, which would run for 7 years and repay the company in management fees and interest income. Genting Malaysia Bhd sent a warning to investors in May stating, if the Mashpee Wampangoag did not win the court case, the $250 million investment might be lost.

First Light Casino & Resort

The First Light Casino & Resort development process has been fraught with troubles. The Commonwealth Massachusetts is proud of its historical treatment of its native tribes, as the story of the first Thanksgiving comes from relations between the Puritans who landed at Plymouth Rock (“the Pilgrims”) and the Mashpee Wanpanoag tribe which greeted them. Any tourist trip to Plymouth Rock is certain to include a visit to a replica of the Pilgrims’ settlement there, which includes demonstrations of how the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe lived at the time, too.

Massachusetts does not have much of a history with brick-and-mortar casinos, though. Bostonians tended to travel to the tribal casinos in Connecticut, Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods, to get their fill of casino gambling. That has begun to change in the past few years. In 2011, as the country began to come out of the Global Recession, Massachusetts passed legislation which would legalize, regulate, license, and tax three private casinos in the state.

At the same time, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission gave the Plainridge Racetrack in Plainville, Massachusetts the right to house slot machines. This was to keep Boston gamblers from leaving the state to play at the Twin Rivers racino in Rhode Island. Meanwhile, the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe decided it was high time to acquire a tribal casino, with all the private casino operations sprouting up in the state.

Challenge from Mass Gaming & Entertainment

While the tribe was seeking approval from state and federal officials, Rush Street Gaming out of Illinois began seeking a license to build a casino in Brockton. That effort led to rival lobbying efforts by the Mashpee Wampanoag and Rush Street Gaming. When Mass Gaming & Entertainment, a subsidiary of Rush Street Gaming, submitted a development plan for a $677 million casino on the Brockton Fairgrounds, Massachusetts Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby said it lacked a “wow factor”.

Eventually, Neil Bluhm’s gaming company gave up its pursuit of a Massachusetts casino, which seemed to clear the way for $1 billion First Light Casino & Resort. The lawsuit has put a crimp in those plans for now, but the tribe has Genting and the Interior Department on its side, so the debate is far from over.