Massachusetts tribe to begin fed process

Aug 21, 2007 7:50 AM

A Massachusetts tribe is set to begin the process of gaining federal recognition in order to operate a casino in the state.

The Mashpee Wampanoags plan to start the lengthy federal approval process for their proposed casino within the next two weeks, a tribe spokesman said last week.

The tribe will submit an application asking the federal government to place roughly 540 acres of tribe-controlled land in Middleboro into a federal trust — freeing it from state and local oversight, and making the land non-taxable by the government.

Spokesman Scott Ferson said the tribe has been moving quickly to put together the application. One major piece of the puzzle fell into place when the tribe secured an option to buy about 200 acres of land from a Middleboro family. Ferson said it was the last remaining land the tribe wanted to acquire for the casino.

Besides the land in Middleboro, the tribe will also ask for their property in the town of Mashpee to be placed into trust. The approximately 100 acres contains the tribal headquarters, a museum and several other buildings.

Ferson said the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs typically takes 18 to 24 months to review land-into-trust applications before making a decision.

"They’re primarily going to be looking at whether it’s good for the tribe," he said. "They’ll also be looking at the impact to the surrounding communities."

The process requires the tribe to explain in detail their intended use for the land. This means the application will contain a thorough description of the tribe’s casino plan.

The Mashpee Wampanoags are hoping that while the federal government mulls their application, Massachusetts officials will take steps to legalize casino gambling in the state. Most observers say that Gov. Deval Patrick, who hasn’t taken a position on casinos, holds the most power in the decision. The governor is expected to announce his position within weeks, which some officials hope will favor commercial, taxable casinos over the Indian-run variety.