Nation | Tribe: Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe
Routes 24 & Route 140
Taunton, MA 02718
The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe planned to build a $1 billion destination resort casino, named First Light Resort & Casino,in City of Taunton in Southeastern Massachusetts. Construction began in April 2016 but was halted three months later by a legal challenge in federal court.
The court ordered the U.S. Department of Interior to reconsider the status of the tribe's reservation. Under the Trump administration the reservation status was withdrawn in 2018. Under the Biden administration the reservation was restored in Dec. 2021.
The future of the Mashpee Wampanoag casino project is now under reconsideration by the tribe.
First Light Resort Casino is named for Wampanoag, the "People of the First Light."
The original construction plan includes a 150,000 sq-ft casino with 3,000 slots, 150 table games and 40 poker tables and a hotel wth two 12-story towers and 300 rooms each. There will also be an event center, indoor/outdoor water park and a family water park hotel.
The tribe broke ground on construction of the First Light Resort Casino in April 2016. However, a federal court halted the construction in July 2016. Legal challenges have stopped further construction since then,
The U.S. Department of Interior tried to remove the reservation status of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribal land in 2018. that action was stopped by a federal judge, who ordered the department to reconsider its decision. Finally in Dec. 2021 the department ruled the tribe's reservation status was valid and the land remains in federal trust.
The land trust is a prerequisite for building a tribal casino under the U.S. Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. As 2022 begins the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe has the full authorization of the federal government to proceed with construction of the First Light Resort Casino.
The tribe is expected the announce its plans for the First Light project in early 2022.
The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe has proposed four-phase plan to build a $1 billion casino in Taunton about 40 miles south of Boston and 20 miles from Providence.
The plan includes a 150,000 sq-ft casino with 3,000 slots, 150 table games and 40 poker tables, two 12-story hotel towers with 300 rooms each, indoor/outdoor water park, a family water park hotel and many restaurants.
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Twin 12-story hotel towers will feature 300 guest rooms each.
The First Light casino plan calls for construction to be completed in 4 phases. These phases and their estimated schedules are shown below:
The first phase of construction is expected to take up to 18 months to complete.
150,000 Sq. Ft.
150 table games
40 poker tables
Food Court - 7 to 10 food outlets
Two Fine Dining Restaurants
- Steakhouse / Seafood
- Asian Restaurant
Center Bar with lounge seats and small stage
Retail Space - 10 retail stores
Parking - 2,500 to 3,200 space parking garage and 2,085 surface parking spaces
The second phase of construction will take another year to complete.
Hotel Tower 1
Additional gaming space
12 Stories in height
6 Event / Meeting Rooms
The third phase of construction will be completed 32-60 months after groundbreaking.
Hotel Tower 2
Cafe restaurant - 200 seat, open 24 hours
The fourth phase of construction will be completed over 60 months after groundbreaking.
Family Water Park Hotel
Event Center - 15,000 sq ft
Indoor/Outdoor Water Park - 25,000 Sq. Ft.
Parking - additional 700 surface parking spots
The state enacted the Massachusetts Casino Bill extablishing the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) and authorizing three regional casinos and a slots parlor.
A non-binding ballot measure in support of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe's casino proposal was passed by voters in Taunton, but rejected by voters in East Taunton where the casino would be built.
In Sept 2015 the U.S. Department of the Interior approved the Tribe's request to take their land into federal trust, including their 152-acre casino site in Taunton. This transfer was completed January 8, 2016.
In April the tribe broke ground to begin construction of their casino.
In July construction stopped when a U.S. District Court judge ruled the federal land transfer violated the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act. The Interior Department appealed.
In April the U.S. Interior Department decided to drop its appeal and seek a legal alternative.
In September Interior Department reversed its decision and conceded that the tribal land could not be kept in trust.
The tribe is seeking federal legislation to overcome its legal challenges to reinstate its trust land and resume its casino project. Two bills have been introduced in the U.S. House of Representative that support the tribe (HR 312 and HR 375).
In March 2020 a U.S. Court of Appeals upheld a 2016 decision by a lower federal court against the 2015 transfer of land owned by the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe into federal trust.
Later in March the U.S. Department of Interior reversed its decision to transfer the 300 acres of Mashpee Wampanoag land into a reservation.
In April 2020 a federal district judge in Washington D.C. stoppped the reversal of the land trust, and in June 2020 ordered the department to "review the matter and issue new findings".
Finally in December 2021 the case was resolved in favor of the tribe. The Interior Department ruled that the 2015 land transfer into federal trust was valid. The legal status remains in trust.
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe is expected to make an announcement about the future plan for the First Light Resort Casino project.
January 11, 2022
After the federal government affirmed and restored its reservation status, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe is reconsidering its plan to build a $1 billion destination resort in Taunton, MA. As 2022 begins, tribal leaders want member to rethink their casino dream with "new eyes" that include economic changes over the past five years.
"We're back to the drawing board, basically. There's still an appetite for gaming. It just needs to be a smart approach. It has to be different from the past. We need to learn from our mistakes and proceed with caution."
- Brian Weeden Tribal Chairman
The tribe is considering three alternatives for moving forward:
Proceed with the First Light Resort Casino project in partnership with their current casino developer partners, Genting Berhad.
Scale back the plan to a Class II casino or bingo hall, which would exempt the tribe from 17% state tax on gaming revenues.
Abandon the casino plan and pursue other financial opportunities, such as tax-free gas stations, tax-free smoke shops and recreational marijuana retail stores.
The next tribal meeting is scheduled in Fedbruary.
January 3, 2022
A new ruling from the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) confirms and secures the reservation status of 321 acres in Mashpee and Taunton owned by the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe. The land will remain in federal trust for the benefit of the tribe.
Although the land was approved and transferred into trust in late 2015, the validity of that transaction was challenged by the Trump Administration in 2018. The Secretary of Interior ordered the the land removed from trust status in March 2020. A federal judge stopped the removal and remanded the DOI to reconsider the legal status of the land.
Last week the DOI ruled the 2015 transfer of reservation land into federal trust was valid and the trust status remains valid. A 55-page confirmation letter dated Dec .22, 2021 was sent to the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe by the DOI Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs.
Now that the legal status of the Mashpee Wampanoag land is established, the tribe has an opportunity to revisit plans to build the $1 billion First Light Casino and Resort project planned for Taunton, MA.
February 19, 2021
Yesterday the U.S. Interior Department withdrew its court appeal in the Mashpee tribe's land-in-trust case, which effectively now returns 151 acres of land in Taunton into federal trust for the Mashpee to build a casino.
An application by the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe to reserve a casino site was approved by the Department of Interior in 2015, however, that approval was withdrawn last March effectively ending the casino project.
The tribe immediately appealed and in June 2020 a U.S. district judge stopped the Interior Department from proceeding. The court ordered the department to "review the matter and issue new findings".
After eight months and a new administration in Washington DC, the DOI conceded and the Mashpee land will remain in federal trust for a casino site.
January 25, 2021
The $1 billion Native American casino proposed for Taunton, Massachusetts by the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe may have a better chance for approval under the Biden Administration.
A reversal from the U.S. Department of Interior and a complex legal battle have completely stopped the project. Last June a federal judge ordered the Interior Department to stop and review the Department's decision to remove the casino land out of federal trust. The Department has appealed the ruling to a U.S. district court.
Now with changes in Washington, there is new hope to revive the Taunton casino project, which will be known as the First Light Resort & Casino. President Biden has nominated Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico) to be Secretary of the Interior Department. Ms. Haaland is a tribal member of the Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico and is expected to bring a new perspective to the case.
The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe is hoping the new Interior Secretary will bring a favorable outcome to their First Light Project.
December 16, 2020
The Mattakeeset Tribe claims ancestral land rights to the Taunton casino site proposed by the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, and the Tribe is seeking formal recognition of its land claim from the state and local governments.
The Mattakeeset land claim is based on a recently published book from the Netherlands that mentions a 1664 deed granting the land around Taunton, Middleborough, Bridgewater and parts of Duxbury to the Mattakeesets in perpetuity. The book is published by Jeremy Bangs of the Leiden American Pilgrim Museum. The museum is dedicated to the Pilgrim Fathers and located in Leiden, Netherlands.
The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe disputes the claim and plans to build a casino in Taunton named First Light Resort and Casino. The casino site is part of a 300-acre reservation granted to the Tribe in late 2016. The U.S. Department of Interior reversed the decision and "disestablished" the reservation in March 2020. A federal judge stopped the action in June 2020, and the case is currently under appeal by the Interior Department.
November 17, 2020
Federal prosecutors in Boston have filed bibery and extortion changes against the Chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and the owner of an architecture
June 13, 2020
On June 5 a U.S. district judge in Washington DC issued a summary judgment to stop the Department of Interior (DOI) from rescinding the reservation status of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and ordering the department to "review the matter and issue new findings".
Judge Paul Friedman found the actions of the DOI were "arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and contrary to law."
April 5, 2020
The U.S. Department of Interior announced a decision last month to "disestablished" the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe's reservation status and transfer back the land held in federal trust. The land had been placed into trust in 2016 to allow the tribe to build an Indian gaming casino on it.
This week a federal district judge in Washington D.C. ordered the Interior Department to stop its removal of the reservation land from trust until May 15 while the court considers a request from the tribe for a permanent injunction to block the action.
March 29, 2020
In a letter from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs last week, the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe was informed of the decision of U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt to "disestablish" the tribe's reservation and remove its land from federal trust.
In 2015 the Department of Interior transferred the Mashpee Wampanoag land into trust giving the tribe sovereignty rights for self-government instead of local and state government regulation. The step is necessary for building an Indian casino on the reservation under the U.S. Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
Tribal Chairman Cedric Cromwell protested the decision:
"Today's action was cruel and it was unnecessary. The Secretary is under no court order to take our land out of trust. He is fully aware that litigation to uphold our status as a tribe eligible for the benefits of the Indian Reorganization Act is ongoing. It begs the question, what is driving our federal trustee's crusade against our reservation?"
After a long legal fight the U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston ruled in February that the land transfer into trust was not in compliance with the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act and should not have been authorized by the Department of Interior.
An attorney for the tribe, Benjamin Wish, says the Interior Department's decision to remove the land from trust is a misinterpretation of the court's ruling:
"No court has ever ordered the Department to take the Tribe's land out of trust. The District Court did not so order. The First Circuit did not so order. In fact, neither court ordered anyone to do anything."
A spokesman for the Department of the Interior, Conner Swanson, cites the court's decision as a mandate for the department's action and reconfirmed the Mashpee Wampanoag remain a federally-recognized tribe.
March 1, 2020
Last week the U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston upheld a lower court decision that the U.S. Department of Interior was not authorized under the federal Indian Reorganization Act to transfer land owned by the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe into federal trust. The federal land transfer was completed in 2015 and is the most fundamental step to building a tribal casino.
The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe has lived in the Massachusetts and Rhode Island area for 12,000 years and shared the First Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims in 1621. It was not until 2007 that the federal government granted formal recognition to the tribe.
The court ruled the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 restricted federal land-to-trust transfers for only those tribes recognized prior to 1934. Other courts have expanded the interpretation of this law with newer regulations to permit all federally-recognized tribes to qualify for casino land.
Tribe chairman, Cedric Cromwell, said after the ruling:
"There's no question that this is a grave injustice. We will continue to fight, as our ancestors did, to preserve our land base, our culture and our spiritual connection to our homelands."
The tribe is also looking for support from Congress to override this ruling. The House has passed legislation backed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and sent it to the Senate for consideration. However, President Trump opposes the bill which he brands a "special-interest casino bill".
July 8, 2019
A final decision is pending in DC District Court that will determine whether the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe can build an Indian gaming casino in Taunton, Massachusetts.
After years of legal battles and a 2018 reversal by the Interior Department against the land-to-trust transfer, the final outcome for the Taunton casino will be determined by three groups: U.S. Department of Interior, Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and the City of Taunton.
Last week the District Court released court filings from each of these groups. Each group agreed to a timetable to reach a final outcome.
The U.S. Department of Interior has until July 19 to file an additional explanation for reversing its decision to take Mashpee Tribe land into trust.
The Mashpee Tribe will then submit their response by July 26.
The are two possible outcomes expected from this case:
If the Department of Interior approves the Mashpee casino, the tribe will proceed with building the first Light Casino Resort. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission is then expected to close licensing other casinos in the southeast region.
If the Department of Interior rejects transferring land into trust for the Mashpee, the tribe may seek a commercial casino license for the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, or make a political push in Congress to pass federal legislation supported by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts).
The final decision of the DC District Cour is scheduled for October 15.
May 15, 2019
House Bill 312 was passed today by the U.S. House of Representatives after being pulled from the floor last week following President Trump's opposition tweet. The vote was 275 to 146 and included 47 republicans and all but 2 Democrats.
The bill, titled "Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act", would reaffirm the tribe's sovereignty over its 321 acres of land by insuring the land is transferred into federal trust. The tribe intends to use part of that land to build its First Light Resort and Casino.
The bill will now head to the Senate which may or may not take up the measure. If passed by the Senate, It may be vetoed by the President.
Two bills in the U.S. House of Representatives that would help the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe reinstate their casino project were pulled by House leadership just hours before a scheduled vote by the full House.
The decision by Democratic leaders followed a tweet from President Trump that read:
"Republicans shouldn't vote for H.R. 312, a special interest casino Bill, backed by Elizabeth (Pocahontas) Warren. It is unfair and doesn't treat Native Americans equally!" - Trump tweet 11:48 a.m. Wednesday
The bills had passed the House Natural Resources Committee and were on a fast track for a house vote Wednesday. The bills will now move through the regular legislative process.
H.R.312 "Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act"
Introduced 01/08/2019 by Rep. William R. Keating (D-MA)
This bill would reaffirm the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe reservation as trust land and dismiss all pending actions and lawsuits in federal court.
Introduced 01/09/2019 by Rep. Tom Cole(R-OK)
This bill would amend the Indian Reorganization Act of June 18, 1934 to reaffirm the authority of the Secretary of the Interior to take land into trust for Indian Tribes, and for other purposes.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren publicly supports the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act, but it now appears her support may have become a liability.
January 8, 2019
The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe hopes the U.S Congress will reconsider and pass legislation to keep the tribe's reservation land in federal trust and allow the tribe to proceed with its casino plans. A Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Re-affirmation bill was reintroduced to Congress on Jan 8 by U.S. representatives William Keating and Joe Kennedy.
"We are extremely grateful that a bipartisan group of Congressional representatives understands the injustice of taking sovereign land away from the first Americans and have moved swiftly to ensure this nation does not return to the dark days of removing indigenous people from their land," wrote Tribal Chairman Cedric Cromwell in a statement released Monday.
The bill must first pass the Senate and House and signed by the President before a legal challenged can be launched.
September 07, 2018
On Friday a decision was made that put the future Taunton Casino development on hold. The casino project would be owned by the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe of Cape Cod. The casino would have cost $1 billion to complete.
The tribe was notified that the land where they wanted to build the casino would not be placed into trust for them by the U.S. Department of the Interior. In 2015 300 acres were placed into trust by the department for the tribe. The tribe was then able to use the land as their sovereign reservation as it was declared as such by the federal government. However, long lasting and ongoing legal battles by residents in the area caused a delay in the project. The department was then ordered by a federal judge to reconsider the action of placing the land into trust. The judge ruled that putting the land into trust did not fall under the authority of the department to do so.
In the ruling that was 28 pages long, it was said that land cannot be placed into trust for the tribe under the Indian Reorganization Act. The act was passed in 1934. Under this act, the tribe does not qualify to have the land placed into trust because it was not under the federal jurisdiction when it passed.
The tribe can trace their ancestors back to the arrival of the Pilgrims. However, they did not receive their federal recognition until 2007.
The federal government can grant a special status by placing land into trust. The property title is held by the government and allows for a tribe to use the land for their own use under their own decisions. They are free to use the land's natural resources and are tax exempt.
Ground was previously broken for the Taunton Casino project. However, construction was stopped by the tribe after the ruling.
June 21, 2018
As of now, 26 letters of support have been submitted for the proposed bill called the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Reaffirmation Act. The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe have been attempting to develop a casino in Taunton. Support for the project has been growing recently. 21 individual tribes, nonprofits, and pan-tribal organizations have submitted their support for the project.
Currently the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe are waiting for a committee hearing to be scheduled by state lawmakers. The tribe is interested in ending the legal battles regarding their reservation.
The proposed bill would end the controversy over property ownership. The land in Taunton was agreed upon to be taken into trust for the tribe. However, the land was sold for the price of $1 billion to neighbors that oppose the project after the lawsuit was ruled in their favor.
The concern is that the 150 acres of land in Taunton will be taken out of trust by the U.S. Department of Interior. The tribe also owns 171 acres of land in Mashpee.
Meetings are being scheduled by the Interior Department with tribal leaders from across the country. The meetings are in regard to taking land into trust for the tribes. The department is looking for recommendations on changes for the current regulation.
One of the changes that the Interior Department is considering is how to comply with court orders asking land to be removed from the trust.
Recently Rush Street casino company submitted a letter to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. The company is located in Chicago. They are interested in joining with the Brockton Fairgrounds to develop a casino. That casino would cost $677 million to complete.
The proposed casino in Brockton was originally denied in April 2016. The state gaming commission rejected the plan with a vote of 4 to 1. Now Rush Street is asking for a reconsideration for their plan.
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