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In casino deal, feds felt the heat from Mass.

The Mass. Gaming Commission met with the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe for a casino presentation in March.

John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/File

The Mass. Gaming Commission met with the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe for a casino presentation in March.

Governor Deval Patrick in 2012 let it be known in no uncertain terms how important it was that the federal government quickly approve a deal for the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe to open a casino.

Kevin Washburn, who headed the Bureau of Indian Affairs at the time, this week told a Las Vegas conference on gambling that Patrick implored him to endorse an agreement on how much the tribe would pay the state from its eventual casino earnings.

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Washburn recalled Patrick saying, “You know this is Massachusetts. We’re special up here. This is a special thing.”

Washburn said he was reluctant to approve the agreement because it called on the tribe to turn over 22 percent of its gambling earnings to the state, an amount Washburn considered too favorable for the state – even though the tribe had agreed to it.

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Washburn, now a law professor, said he was concerned other tribes would object to the terms as setting a bad precedent that could lead to them to pay high percentages of their earnings. As sovereign nations, tribes are immune from state taxes, but many agree to share their earnings in exchange for states promising to restrict other casinos from competing against them.

Washburn said he also received calls from Senator John Kerry, who is now secretary of state, and from Ed Markey, who was then a congressman and later succeeded Kerry in the Senate. “They were just pulling out all the stops,” Washburn said, according to a report in Gambling Compliance, which covers the industry. “I just had to deal with every member of Congress from Massachusetts, it seemed like. [They] called up and said, ‘What the hell are you doing?’”

The White House general counsel’s office also called, to say President Obama and Patrick were frequent golf partners, Washburn said.

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But Washburn ultimately rejected the agreement. The state and the tribe then negotiated a new agreement that was less generous to the state. And it was approved. The tribe in April broke ground on a casino in Taunton, but halted construction due to a lawsuit now pending in court.

Sean P. Murphy can be reached at smurphy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @spmurphyboston.
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