City seek­ing casino fights War­ren bill giv­ing pref­er­ence to In­dian tribe

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY VA­LERIE RICHARD­SON

Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren’s bill to clear the way for a $1 bil­lion tribal gam­bling re­sort is meet­ing with re­sis­tance not only from lo­cals who don’t want a casino, but also from a strug­gling Mas­sachusetts town that does.

Brock­ton Mayor Wil­liam Car­pen­ter said the War­ren leg­is­la­tion on be­half of the Mash­pee Wam­panoag tribe would de­stroy his com­mu­nity’s own plans for a casino, a project de­signed to bring badly needed jobs and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment to the blue-col­lar burg.

“Year af­ter year, we’re run­ning mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar deficits in our bud­get. We’ve laid off school­teach­ers for three years in a row,” Mr. Car­pen­ter said. “We des­per­ately need the rev­enue.”

He spent six hours on Capi­tol Hill urg­ing law­mak­ers to de­feat the Mash­pee Wam­panoag Tribe Reser­va­tion Reaf­fir­ma­tion Act, which would over­ride a fed­eral judge’s de­ci­sion last year block­ing the tribe’s plans for a lux­ury casino and re­sort in East Taun­ton.

The Mas­sachusetts Gam­ing Com­mis­sion is slated to award only three casino li­censes, each in dif­fer­ent re­gions of the state. Brock­ton and East Taun­ton are less than 20 miles apart in the south­east­ern sec­tor.

Los­ing out to the Mash­pee Wam­panoag based on the mer­its would be one thing, but what an­noys Mr. Car­pen­ter is the specter of fed­eral law­mak­ers like Ms. War­ren doom­ing Brock­ton’s chances with a bill that he said gives “spe­cial treat­ment” to the tribe.

“The whole thing just seems un­fair to me,” Mr. Car­pen­ter said. “I don’t know if Brock­ton will ul­ti­mately be granted the li­cense or not from the state gam­ing com­mis­sion, but I know our op­por­tu­ni­ties should not be taken away by a piece of spe­cial-in­ter­est leg­is­la­tion.”

Ms. War­ren and fel­low Mas­sachusetts Demo­cratic Sen. Ed­ward J. Markey in­tro­duced the Se­nate bill in March, mov­ing to aid the Mash­pee af­ter U.S. District Court Judge Wil­liam G. Young over­turned the In­te­rior Depart­ment’s de­ci­sion to take land into trust on the tribe’s be­half, a pre­req­ui­site for In­dian gam­bling.

Ms. War­ren started ad­vo­cat­ing on be­half of the Mash­pee casino de­spite her pre­vi­ous op­po­si­tion to le­gal­ized gam­bling in Mas­sachusetts, and af­ter her pledge ear­lier this year to cham­pion Amer­i­can In­dian is­sues in re­sponse to Pres­i­dent Trump’s dub­bing her “Poc­a­hon­tas,” a ref­er­ence to her un­proven claim of Chero­kee an­ces­try.

The House bill, spon­sored by Demo­cratic Rep. Wil­liam R. Keat­ing, has the back­ing of the en­tire Mas­sachusetts del­e­ga­tion, but Mr. Car­pen­ter said he be­lieves some law­mak­ers were un­aware of the com­pet­ing Brock­ton bid.

“This was clearly led by Sen. War­ren and Rep. Keat­ing,” said Mr. Car­pen­ter. “They are re­ally the mov­ing force be­hind this, and I think many of the other mem­bers of the del­e­ga­tion with­out re­al­iz­ing there might be ob­jec­tions from oth­ers just signed on as a courtesy to sup­port their col­leagues in the del­e­ga­tion.”

The state gam­bling com­mis­sion re­jected Brock­ton’s bid two years ago, cit­ing con­cerns about mar­ket over­sat­u­ra­tion if the tribal casino won fed­eral ap­proval, but Brock­ton re­cently re­sub­mit­ted its ap­pli­ca­tion for a $677 casino at the town fair­grounds.

Brock­ton cer­tainly could ben­e­fit from an eco­nomic boost. The city of about 95,000, home­town of box­ers Rocky Mar­ciano and Marvin Ha­gler, has strug­gled with so­cial and eco­nomic chal­lenges stem­ming in part from an in­flux of im­mi­grants.

“It’s a blue-col­lar im­mi­grant city where two years ago, 80 per­cent of the stu­dents in our school sys­tem qual­i­fied for free or re­duced lunch,” Mr. Car­pen­ter said. “Our unem­ploy­ment rate runs about 50 per­cent above the statewide av­er­age his­tor­i­cally, and we’re a ma­jor­ity-mi­nor­ity city.”

Mr. Keat­ing has ar­gued that the Mash­pee would also be hit hard by the loss of their pro­posed $1 bil­lion First Light Re­sort and Casino project, in part be­cause the tribe would for­feit ac­cess to fed­eral fund­ing sources for so­cial ser­vices and other pro­grams un­less the land is taken into trust.

“It would be fi­nan­cially dev­as­tat­ing,” he told the Cape Cod Times.

Mash­pee Tribal Coun­cil Chair­man Cedric Cromwell has praised the bill, calling it “fur­ther ev­i­dence that Congress, in both the House and Se­nate, see it as the hon­or­able and just thing to do: reaf­firm our right to a reser­va­tion for our peo­ple and to en­sure that our tribe will be treated equally un­der the law as other fed­er­ally rec­og­nized tribes.”

The leg­is­la­tion could scotch the Brock­ton casino bid, but so could the In­te­rior Depart­ment, which de­clined to ap­peal the court rul­ing in June 2016. In­stead, the agency im­me­di­ately moved to explore other le­gal av­enues for tak­ing land in trust on the tribe’s be­half.

Two years later, Brock­ton is still wait­ing for the In­te­rior Depart­ment to com­plete its re­view. So is Michelle Lit­tle­field, one of the 25 East Taun­ton res­i­dents be­hind the fed­eral law­suit chal­leng­ing the depart­ment’s de­ci­sion, which she blasted as “com­pletely de­signed to give a spe­cial in­ter­est group spe­cial pref­er­ence.”

Brock­ton pre­vi­ously emerged as the fi­nal can­di­date of three other com­mu­ni­ties vy­ing for the casino li­cense.

“There’s been this kind of per­pet­ual, ‘Hey, maybe the tribe can get qual­i­fied in some other way, maybe on re­mand with In­te­rior. Maybe Congress can step in and do some­thing for them,’” said David Ten­nant, at­tor­ney for the East Taun­ton group. “And all of this is to the detri­ment of Brock­ton, which lined up its ducks years ago and had some­body ready to go. This kind of per­pet­ual pref­er­ence for a tribal casino is now run­ning well past the clock that the fed­eral court said would be an equal-pro­tec­tion vi­o­la­tion.”

Lob­by­ing on be­half of the War­renKeat­ing leg­is­la­tion is the Gent­ing Group, a Malaysia-based en­tity that has sunk a re­ported $400 mil­lion into the tribe’s First Light Re­sort and Casino project and could lose it all if the fed­eral gov­ern­ment fails to take the land into trust.

“We are up against a for­eign com­pany that’s worth hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars,” said Ms. Lit­tle­field. “It’s a bot­tom­less well on the other side. From Day One, we’ve been the un­der­dog, and the only thing we’ve ever had on our side was the law.”

She crit­i­cized law­mak­ers for at­tempt­ing to over­rule the judge’s or­der. “If we could just get the gov­ern­ment to fol­low the law, not only the fed­eral agen­cies in­volved, but ev­ery con­gress­man and sen­a­tor who’s taken the oath of of­fice,” she said.

The House bill, H.R. 5244, is slated for a hear­ing Tues­day be­fore the House Nat­u­ral Re­sources sub­com­mit­tee on In­dian, in­su­lar and Alaska Na­tive af­fairs.

“Some of my frus­tra­tion is I think some of the folks here in Wash­ing­ton have only heard one side of the story,” said Mr. Car­pen­ter. “And I think the folks that I rep­re­sent in Brock­ton also de­serve eco­nomic jus­tice.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The Mash­pee Wam­panoag tribe is bat­tling the strug­gling city of Brock­ton, Mas­sachusetts, for a casino li­cense. Each side says a de­nial by the Mas­sachusetts Gam­ing Com­mis­sion would be dev­as­tat­ing to their com­mu­nity. The de­bate has reached the...

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