Governor Deval Patrick said he is ready to begin negotiations with the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe on a compact that would govern how a tribal casino in Taunton would be operated.
A compact between the tribe and the governor is a necessary step toward approval of a tribal casino under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which permits tribes to host gambling on their land. Compacts generally spell out how a tribal casino will be regulated and what portion of its revenue, if any, would go to the state.
The tribe formally requested to begin negotiations in a letter to Patrick on Wednesday.
The state’s new casino law gives a federally recognized tribe a head start toward developing a tribal casino in Southeastern Massachusetts without commercial competition. To maintain the advantage, tribes must acquire land and schedule a local referendum in the host community.
The tribe noted in its letter to Patrick that it has an option to buy 75 acres in Taunton for a casino, and that the Taunton City Council had scheduled a June 9 referendum for local voters to weigh in on the proposal.
“This is one more major step forward in developing a destination resort that will bring thousands of jobs, millions in revenue, and increased economic development opportunities to the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, the City of Taunton, and all of Southeastern Massachusetts,’’ the tribe’s chairman, Cedric Cromwell, said in a statement. “I look forward to working cooperatively with the Commonwealth to ensure that we come to an agreement on a compact that will bring the greatest possible benefits to all parties.’’
Another federally recognized tribe, the Wampanoag tribe of Gay Head-Aquinnah, has also asked Patrick to enter into negotiations. Patrick’s office responded in writing Wednesday, asking the tribe to document that it has acquired land and has arranged for a referendum.
The Aquinnah’s chairwoman, Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, acknowledged in a statement that the tribe received Patrick’s request for more documentation, and said it is “in process of responding to the Governor.’’ The Aquinnah Tribe has said that it has land under option in several southeastern communities.
Legal experts have questioned whether the Aquinnah have legal standing to pursue a casino. The tribe insists it has the right, and the matter may end up in court.
Negotiating a compact is just one step in what would be a long federal approval process for either tribe.