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Mashpee Wampanoag tribe makes deal to build casino

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe will pay the city of Taunton approximately $33 million in upfront costs and make minimum annual payments of roughly $13 million if it wins approval to build a $500 million resort casino there, the tribe announced Thursday.

In a statement announcing the agreement with the Southeastern Massachusetts city, the tribe said the proposed casino in the Liberty and Union Industrial Park at the intersection of Routes 24 and 140 will provide 1,000 construction jobs and 2,500 permanent jobs in its first phase.

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“I think we have a very good working relationship with the City Council and the mayor,’’ tribal chairman Cedric Cromwell said in a phone interview. “The stars are lining [up], and it’s very positive.’’

The tribe estimates that building and operating the casino would generate a $120 million annual infusion into the city and region’s economy.

But the future of the proposal is far from certain. City residents are scheduled to vote on the plan in a nonbinding referendum on June 9.

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“If it fails, that’s the end of the deal,’’ Mayor Thomas C. Hoye Jr., a supporter of the project, said Thursday. “That’s built into the [agreement]. I’m going to honor the will of the people.’’

Voter approval would strengthen the tribe’s position with Governor Deval Patrick’s administration, which is negotiating with the Mashpee over terms for a Taunton casino.

A negotiated agreement between the tribe and the state, known in law as a compact, is a key step along the federal casino approval process for Indian tribes. Compacts generally spell out how tribal casinos are regulated and what portion of their revenue, if any, goes to the state.

The commercial casinos that will be licensed in Massachusetts under legislation passed in September will pay a 25 percent tax on gambling revenues. State law requires the newly formed gambling commission to solicit bids for a commercial casino in Southeastern Massachusetts by the end of October if the tribe’s compact is not completed by July 31.

Tribal casinos are separate from the commercial casinos that were allowed under the state legislation.

Even if the tribe meets the July deadline, the federal government still must take the land in Taunton - which the Mashpee has options to buy - into trust for the tribe, a process that could take years and require court action or an act of Congress.

A spokeswoman for the gaming commission declined to comment on the agreement between the tribe and the city of Taunton.

A spokesman for the state economic development office released a statement saying only that discussions between the Patrick administration and the tribe continued this week and are ongoing.

Hoye said the tribe’s proposal - which includes plans for hotels, restaurants, and a water park - would provide an economic boost to his city.

“Taunton needs a shot in the arm,’’ he said. “It needs revenue.’’

City resident Frank Lagace, a vocal critic of the proposal, believes the agreement announced Thursday includes caveats that may allow the tribe to avoid paying its fair share of revenue to the city in the future. And, Lagace said, the job projections have varied repeatedly.

“I’m not opposed to casinos, and I’m not opposed to Native American casinos,’’ he said. “In a way, I’d prefer to see Native Americans get a casino because of their treatment . . . over the last few centuries. But I oppose a casino in Taunton. Taunton is too built out. We’re too small of a city.’’

Cromwell said Thursday that he is confident the Taunton plan will succeed, in part because the atmosphere in the state has changed with the passage of the casino legislation. He refused to discuss the tribe’s strategy if the referendum fails in Taunton.

“The focus is to get this referendum passed,’’ Cromwell said. “I can’t think [about] anything but moving forward with the city of Taunton right now. Everything’s positive.’’

Mark Arsenault of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at tandersen. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.
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