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October 13, 2012

Feds reject state-tribe deal for Taunton casino

BOSTON (AP) — The federal government has rejected a compact between Massachusetts and the Mashpee Wampanoags, dealing a major setback to the tribe’s hopes for building a resort casino in Taunton.

In a letter to Gov. Deval Patrick explaining its decision, the U.S. Interior Department — which oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs — said the compact called for the tribe to send too great a share of its gambling revenue back to the state.

The compact negotiated between the Mashpee and Patrick, and later approved by the Legislature, called for the tribe to return 21.5 percent of future gambling revenues to Massachusetts, the highest figure ever negotiated between a state and Native American tribe.

The bureau said the revenue allocation was too generous to the state and would undermine the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which says gaming should primarily benefit tribes.

“While we have approved varying revenue sharing schemes in exchange for tangible benefits to tribes for over 20 years, the revenue sharing provisions in this Compact go beyond those permitted by the Department and IGRA,” wrote Kevin Washburn, assistant secretary of Indian Affairs in the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The bureau also said that the compact strayed too far into non-gaming issues, such as the tribe’s hunting and fishing rights and land claims, and sought to give the state regulation over activities not directly related to gambling.

In separate statements yesterday, Patrick and the tribe expressed disappointment with the ruling but vowed to reopen negotiations toward a revised compact.

The governor said the compact he negotiated with the tribe under the terms of the state’s new gambling law was “extraordinarily fair” to both sides.

“Its terms rightly recognized and respected the sovereign rights of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe while remaining consistent with the goals and principals of the Expanded Gaming Act — namely bringing jobs and economic development to every region of the state,” Patrick said.

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