By E. Abim Thomas and Eleanor C. Simon
On March 21, 2013, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission heard testimony from interested parties to determine how to proceed in Region C (Southeastern Massachusetts). Two weeks later, on April 4, the Commission was poised to take a vote on whether to open up Region C to commercial bids. While many of the commissioners appeared to be leaning toward opening up the region to commercial bids, Commissioner Cameron felt that the proposal that was up for a vote was sufficiently different from prior proposals and that it warranted additional public comment. Commissioner Zuniga disagreed, but the Commission eventually decided to solicit public comment over the next two weeks on the Commission’s proposal to open up Region C to commercial bidders.
Commissioner McHugh outlined what he sees as the four main issues in Region C:
- The status of the Tribe’s gaming project, including the Compact, developments with the local community in Taunton and the environmental studies required.
- The Tribe’s land-in-trust application, focusing on the fact that both the outcome and the timing of a land-in-trust decision are extremely uncertain.
- The KG Urban litigation and the fact that the 14th Amendment equal protection challenge is further strengthened the longer the Commission prevents commercial competition in Region C.
- The Commission’s right under Section 91(e) of the Expanded Gaming Act to issue a commercial license at any time in Region C and the lack of authority of the language contained in the Tribal Compact.
Commissioner Zuniga discussed the financial considerations with respect to Region C, which included opportunity costs and other economic factors that should be weighed.
The Commission’s decision of whether to award a commercial license in Region C would take into account all economic and other relevant factors, including legislative intent with respect to Region C and tribal gaming. If the Commission decided to open up Region C to commercial bidding, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe would be able to continue to pursue its land-in-trust application in parallel with a commercial bidding process. When the Commission decided it was ready to award a commercial license in Region C, the Commission could decide that the Tribe had made such significant progress that it would not be in the best interests of the Commonwealth to award a commercial license in the region. However, the Commission could also decide at that time that even though the Tribe may have made some progress toward a tribal casino, it would still be in the best interests of the Commonwealth to award a commercial license.
On April 18, the Commission will vote and the Southeastern Massachusetts gaming landscape may include new players.