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Patrick rejects casino negotiations with tribe

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September 8, 2009

BOSTON - The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe delivered a letter to the governor's office last week seeking to begin negotiations of a gaming compact for their proposed $1 billion casino in Middleborough. However, Gov. Deval Patrick rejected the proposal and stated the Wampanoag tribe must get federal land approval first. In the interim he encouraged the tribe to continue ongoing "informal conversations and meetings" with his administration.

"There isn't a whole lot that meaningfully we can talk about until they have the land in trust," Patrick said during a radio appearance.

Ben Clements, chief legal counsel to the governor, wrote in a letter to tribal chairman Shawn W. Hendricks Sr., "Until we know the extent to which the Bureau of Indian Affairs approves the Tribe's land-in-trust application, and the Tribe's jurisdiction over the land located in Middleborough is established, any agreements we might reach would be purely hypothetical."

Scott Ferson, a spokesman for the tribe, said Gov. Patrick's response was not a surprise since he previously indicated he wanted to wait until the federal process was finished.

The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe gained federal recognition last year, which is the first step towards building an Indian casino. The second step is federal approval declaring the land sovereign and taking it into federal trust. The tribe expects approval in the first half of 2009.

The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe can then build a Class II casino without state approval. Class II gaming includes bingo, bingo-style electronic games, poker, and any other games played against other players. Class III games are played against the house such as Vegas-style slot machines, blackjack, etc. These are more lucrative and require a gaming compact with the state.

The purpose of the tribes letter to the governor was to start negotiation of a compact now. Scott Ferson, a tribal spokesman, said the negotiations "takes time, usually six months or longer. The Bureau of Indian Affairs encourages tribes to work these out in anticipation of the land being taken into trust. That's the way it was done in Connecticut."

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