On April 18, 2013, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission unanimously passed a motion to open Region C (Southeastern Massachusetts) to commercial bidders. The decision has been hotly debated, as the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe is still seeking approval of a compact at the state level and federal approval of its land-in-trust application. Some have advocated to keep Region C closed to commercial applications until the state and federal processes are completed and the decision regarding the Tribe’s ability to host a casino is known. Others have advocated to open Region C immediately to commercial bidders in order to avoid further delays.
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Chairman Cedric Cromwell spoke before the Commission to discourage the Commission from opening Region C to commercial bidders. In no uncertain terms, Chairman Cromwell stated that the Commission should not rush to make a decision and that it should wait for the federal and state processes to be completed take place so that the Tribe’s ability to open a tribal gaming facility would not be undermined.
After Chairman Cromwell’s remarks, the Commission discussed the implications of opening Region C before these processes were completed. Contrary to the belief of many, Commissioner McHugh emphasized that moving forward immediately would not affect the Tribe’s processes with the state and federal governments. The Commission would proceed as follows:
- Issue a commercial Phase 1 RFP immediately;
- Simultaneously set a deadline for commercial responses;
- After receiving Phase 1 applications, make Region C commercial applicant suitability determinations; and
- After the suitability determinations are made, issue a site-specific Phase 2 RFP and a deadline for responses.
Only after the Phase 2 response deadline would the Commission make a decision about whether to award a commercial license in Region C. In doing so, it would take into account the status of the Tribe’s efforts, the contents of the Phase 2 RFP responses, the regional and statewide gaming landscape and other economic conditions. Based on the schedules for Regions A and B, this decision would not likely occur until the end of 2014. Commissioner McHugh highlighted that, until that time, the Tribe’s course with the state and federal governments would be unaffected. At that time, the Commission would have all the factors it needs to determine whether a license should be granted to the Tribe or a commercial bidder.
Each of the commissioners voiced thoughts about the implications of opening Region C to commercial bidders. Commissioner Stebbins questioned whether moving forward would impact the state legislature’s process for approving a compact. Commissioner Zuniga highlighted that, at the end of the day, the Commission is not mandated to accept any applications so it will not be forced to accept an inadequate commercial developer’s application in lieu of having waited for the Tribe. Commissioner McHugh did not consider waiting for the Tribe to gain land-in-trust as an option, especially given that the wait would be further prolonged if the Tribe’s land-in-trust application was rejected, as the Tribe could file a new land-in-trust application. Commissioner Cameron concurred and voiced her opinion that moving forward with Region C would still respect the rights and ability of the Tribe to ultimately succeed in having a casino. Lastly, Chairman Crosby indicated that there was no way to predict the outcome of the Tribe’s efforts, that the Commonwealth could lose potential revenue by waiting and that, most importantly, the Tribe could be the best position to open a casino in Region C. In his view, if the Tribe accomplishes its stated goals within its stated timeframe, the Tribe will likely win out over other applicants. In the meantime, moving forward will protect the interests of Southeastern Massachusetts.