Do casinos equal jobs and tax revenues or just money for well healed backers and their political cronies? Indian gaming appears to have an even higher risk of corruption and abuse which leaves intended beneficiaries in the dust. According to Ryan's Take (an investigative news blog covering Massachusetts casino corruption concerns since 2005), some Mass legislators are voicing concerns that the Mohegan Sun Indian gaming venture in Connecticut, touted as a model and rationale for Massachusetts gaming, was paying out more money to non-Indian investors and casino executives than was going to actual tribe members.
This is worrisome for the Wampanoag rank and file as their leaders have the same financial backers helping them pursue casino development rights in Massachusetts. Mashpee Wampanoag members who are potential downstream beneficiaries of the casino deals say they are suspicious about their leaders now that they have struck deals with the same Mohegan investors. However, documents filed with the tribe's pending federal application for reservation status at the site failed to disclose those financial terms irking some tribal members and raising even more questions as to who is really behind the big money casino lobbying.
"They don't let us see anything," said Michelle Fernandes, a member of the tribe. "It's a big secret."
Mohegan Sun investors Sol Kerzner and Len Wolman (members of a slightly different tribe) received hundreds of millions of dollars by circumventing federal laws which were intended to prevent this from happening. Kerzner, Woman and associates apparently have similar designs on Massachusetts Indian gaming via the Wampanoag. While some Massachusetts lawmakers are raising concerns and demanding more transparency, they lack the clout carried by the likes of Governor Duval Patrick and Senate President Therese Murray who are the state's top beneficiaries of Indian gaming and casino lobbying interest campaign money.
The campaign contributions answer the question as to why senior Massachusetts elected officials are apparently happy to help circumvent federal laws to allow a tribe which otherwise lacks appropriate standing via the federal Indian Gaming Regulator Act to set up gambling operations in Massachusetts - operations which, if run by any group other than a recognized tribe, would have to pay taxes on profits back to the state. Cutting a special deal and conveying rights to the Wampanoag that other casino developers lack reduces the income the state can expect to collect. And, as demonstrated in Connecticut, this is a good deal for the non-Indian financial backers now pocketing hundreds of millions in profits leaving actual tribe members who could use financial help fighting over scraps.
Senator John Kerry, a top federal candidate recipient of Wampanoag and Mohegan slush money (and over $100,000 in Jack Abramoff donations), supports granting the tribe special status. And, top state casino lobbying money recipient Governor Patrick has already made clear his interest in keeping close control through a self-appointed casino oversight board ensuring his continued access to the deep pocketed financial backers who are already lining his campaign war chest.
If these elected officials really wanted to help rank and file Wampanoag families, they could simply put in a special state tax designation to provide gaming money to the tribe (or better yet, designate moneys for the low-income communities in which they live). All the back room political dealings to strike special deals for the tribe simply make for a environment rife with corruption that benefit only a few top dogs. Wampanoag members are right to be worried.