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Legal battle over tribal casino in Taunton bumped up to appeals court

Cedric Cromwell, chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Nation demolished one of the first buildings ona prospective casino site in Taunton in April 2016.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

The dispute over the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe’s legal authority to open a $1 billion casino in Taunton moved to the federal appellate level Thursday, five months after the tribe lost its bid to dismiss its latest legal challenge.

In July, a federal judge ruled that the US Department of the Interior was wrong to designate an 150-acre parcel in Taunton as a Mashpee reservation. On Thursday, the Interior Department joined the tribe’s appeal of that decision.

The dispute is likely to hinge on the interpretation of the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act, a landmark law sometimes known as the “Indian New Deal.”


The tribe has the financial backing of Genting Group, a Malaysian conglomerate and one of the world’s largest casino operators. The group has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the Taunton plan, and its wealth has led many to assume it will be willing to finance a protracted legal battle.

The tribe broke ground for the casino in April, but halted work after the judge ruled in favor of a group of property owners who had sued to stop the project. The state Gaming Commission had previously rejected a proposal for a resort casino in Brockton, hoping the Mashpee would ultimately prevail in the courts.

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