FALL RIVER, Mass. (AP) - The state gambling commission on Thursday will consider whether to extend an Indian tribe's exclusive right to develop a casino in southeastern Massachusetts.
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission is expected to hear from both sides about opening the region to commercial bidders at its meeting at Bristol Community College.
The state's 2011 expanded gambling law created one casino license each for three geographic areas. It gave preference in the southeastern region to a federally-recognized Indian tribe. But it allowed the commission to consider other bidders if the tribe's plans looked unworkable.
The Mashpee Wampanoag are planning a $500 million resort casino in Taunton, and on Wednesday announced a revenue-sharing compact with the state. They hope to break ground within a year.
But the federal government must first take the 146-acre site in Taunton into trust. Opponents say that's a huge task that typically takes years, though the Mashpee point to a preliminary opinion from the federal Office of Indian Gaming that said the land appeared to qualify as an "initial reservation." That could allow the tribe to conduct gambling at the site in the future.
Another obstacle is a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that limits the government's ability to hold land in trust for tribes recognized after 1934. The Mashpee tribe won federal recognition in 2007, but it says it can proceed by showing it was under federal jurisdiction before 1934.
In comments submitted before Thursday's meeting, state Rep. Robert Koczera of New Bedford, where a commercial developer is hoping to build a casino, said that at a minimum, the Supreme Court decision guarantees years of litigation in order to take the land into trust.
He urged the commission to allow commercial bids, due no later than June, "to ensure this region does not fall behind the other two regions of the Commonwealth."
But state Rep. Shaunna O'Connell, whose district includes most of Taunton, said the tribe has made significant progress while meeting every legal requirement. She said Taunton "eagerly looks forward to the good careers and influx of resources this project will provide."