Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Latest Interior Department ruling adds casinos to queue for review

The New York Times is reporting today that the Interior Department has reversed a previous ruling which prevented Indian gaming operations by federally recognized tribes under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act beyond "commuting distance" from the tribe's reservation.

Some 22 applications had been rejected under this rule and are now back in queue for the lengthy review process required under federal law for Indian gaming operations.  This review process determines whether or not the Secretary of the Interior will allow a tribes recognized before 1934 to acquire land in trust (a requirement for Indian gaming operations of any kind).   This process requires local impact assessments, impact on state and local tax-bases resulting from removal of proposed land from the local tax base, jurisdictional issues review (i.e., Indian casino lands are no longer subject to local law enforcement), resolution of any litigation challenges, and environmental impact studies.

Once all of these studies and clearances have been completed a tribe may take land into trust and begin the building process of their gaming project.  Based on past reviews, this process takes between six (6) and 25 years.  The addition of the 22 previously rejected tribes to the ten current "off reservation" applications before the Department of the Interior is likely to make that wait even longer.

What does this mean for the proposed Massachusetts legislative carve-out for in-state Indian gaming?  Well, nothing really other than yet another insurmountable hurdle.  The Wampanoag tribe is not even a recognized tribe under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act as it was not recognized prior to 1934.  A fact that the Supreme Court ruled in in 2009 (Carcieri v. Salazar) makes them ineligible to take land into trust - a prerequisite for establishing an Indian gaming operation.  This decision requires an act of Congress to allow the Wampanoags to move their plan forward.  The Commonwealth of Massachusetts cannot legislate around this federal law, so whatever deal they cook up for the Wampanoag's and their Asian gambling syndicate financial backers will still start the tribe off at square one with the feds.

So which ever local community (Raynham, Middleborough, Mashpee, or Fall River) is putting their financial eggs in this Indian basket they better be prepared to wait a few decades before any jobs or local economic benefits (after the Indian's backers take their tax-free share back to Malaysia).

Will Governor Patrick, Senator Murray and the the long list of Indian casino campaign contributions and lobby money still be around to thank in 25 years for the first jobs to come from this scheme?

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