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Mashpee tribe would put a casino in Taunton

Talks with city, Patrick come next

The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe will announce today that it has chosen land in Taunton, near the intersection of Routes 24 and 140, as the site for its long-sought tribal casino, according to a person close to the tribe.

Tribal officials will soon begin discussions with city leaders about building a casino on the land, which the tribe has secured with an option to buy.

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The tribe expects to begin negotiations soon with Governor Deval Patrick on a compact that would govern how the casino would operate, a requirement for approval under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, according to the person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the secrecy surrounding the negotiations.

Many obstacles remain for the tribe, but identifying land is a significant milestone that could give much-needed momentum to a project that had appeared to stall.

The tribal project in Taunton could also have significant ramifications for nearby casino proposals, because the Massachusetts Gaming Commission may not want to approve another gambling facility too near a tribal casino.

The Raynham Park track, in the bordering town, for example, is expected to bid for the slot machine parlor license authorized by the state casino law. The tribe’s site in Taunton is also less than 30 miles from two other proposed casinos: Plainridge Racecourse in Plainville, another candidate for the slots parlor, and Route 1 in Foxborough, where Las Vegas mogul Steve Wynn is proposing a $1 billion gambling resort.

The state’s new casino law gives wide deference to the Mashpees’ federal rights to build a tribal casino on Indian land. The state law, signed in November by Patrick, authorizes one gambling resort in Greater Boston and another in Western Massachusetts, but delays bidding for any commercial casino in the southeast until at least August, to give the Mashpees time to make progress toward a tribal casino. If it appears they are on course to build a casino in the southeast, the gambling commission will not solicit bids for a commercial casino in that region.

The tribe must next negotiate with Patrick the compact, which would include what money the state would get from gambling proceeds.

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The road to Taunton has been long and bumpy for the Mashpee Wampanoag. In 2007, the tribe celebrated a casino agreement with the town of Middleborough. But the tribe later abandoned those plans, angering town officials who complained about broken promises and unpaid mitigation money. The tribe turned next to Fall River, which proved to be another false start.

The tribe’s reputation took a hit in 2009, when its former chairman, Glenn Marshall, was sentenced to federal prison for embezzlement.

For the past several months, as major casino companies planted their flags at sites around Greater Boston and Western Massachusetts, the southeast was mostly silent, due to the language in the law that gives the tribe first shot at developing a casino there.

To maintain the advantage now that it has land, the tribe must next negotiate with Patrick the compact, which would include what, if any, money the state would get from gambling proceeds and how the casino would be regulated. By July 31, the tribe would also have to win legislative approval of the compact and schedule a local referendum.

If the Mashpee Wampanoag fail to make the deadline, the commission must open the southeast to commercial casino bidders.

But meeting that deadline is only the first hurdle. The tribe would then have to apply to the US Department of the Interior to take the land into trust so it may qualify as Indian land under federal law. That process became more difficult in 2009, when the Supreme Court stripped the federal government of much of its power to take land into trust. Legislation to amend the law has failed to move in Congress, and a court case that could clarify the process may be years from a ruling.

If the gambling commission determines at any time after July 31 that the tribe cannot overcome the land-in-trust problem, that would also open the region to bidding on a commercial casino.

Mark Arsenault can be reached at marsenault@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @bostonglobemark.
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