Thursday, June 23, 2011

Rhode Island takes steps to block Massachusetts Indian gaming

The Chafee Administration in Rhode Island knows what's coming and they are laying the groundwork to protect existing gaming interest in the region.  The Rhode Island Governor is commissioning a study on the regional impact of expanded gaming, i.e., Massachusetts, on the Rhode Island economy.  The study proposal says the results “will demonstrate the economic impact on [Twin River and Newport Grand] from the establishment of an IGRA casino within a 50 mile radius of Twin River.”

This study proposal request specifically asks for respondents to address “Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) Casino Study" which currently prevents tribes like Rhode Island's Narragansett and the Massachusetts Wampanoag from engaging in Indian gaming.   Why should Massachusetts take note of this Rhode Island economic impact study?  Because, among many other requirements, before any Indian gaming operation can meet required approvals by the U.S. Department of the Interior, local economic impact evaluations must be considered.  Any negative impact the creation of an Indian casino may have on existing jobs can be used as a reason to deny approval for an individual project.  What economic effect on the existing Rhode Island casinos do we think a Massachusetts Indian gaming operation will have?

Hint: It won’t be positive.

Of course Rhode Island gaming will be influenced by any Massachusetts casino; however, they can only seek to block such efforts if Massachusetts includes Indian gaming in its legislation.  In fact, should there be a special interest carve out for Indian gaming in Massachusetts, neighboring states could move to block and delay all gaming in Massachusetts from moving forward.  The odds of that happening are much better than you’ll get playing the slots at Foxwoods.

Rhode Island clearly knew about the challenges, potential delays and additional federal legal burdens associated with including Indian gaming when they legalized state gambling.  Governor Chafee continues to move more cautiously in Rhode Island on the issue of Indian gaming - an approach which Massachusetts legislators should pay heed.  (Of course, Governor Chafee didn’t get as many campaign contributions from Indian gaming interests as have the elected state leadership in Massachusetts.)  Rhode Island approved general casino gaming first, and is now exploring ways to integrate the Narragansett tribe while legislation allowing such activity moves its way through the U.S. Congress.  This is why Rhode Island has operating casinos today and not just court cases.

This pending federal legislation, known as the "Carcieri Fix," addresses the Supreme Court's findings in Carcier v. Salazar that tribes like the Wampanoag and Narragansett cannot be allowed Indian gaming rights by the Department of the Interior under current law.  As such, legislation changing the existing Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) would be required to pass before any tribe not recognized prior to 1934 (the Wampanoag's were recognized in 1987) can be allowed to take lands into trust for the purposes of casino gaming operations; however, this Carcieri Fix legislation faces strong opposition from elected officials with existing recognized tribes and states, like Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York, which have existing gaming which would suffer from Massachusetts Indian gaming competition.

Other elected officials oppose bringing new "tribes" (like the Wampanoag which appear to have been "re-organized" by genetic ancestors after essentially going out of existence as organized tribes largely for the purposes of entering the lucrative casino gaming business) based on the requirement that such Indian gaming operations require taking of land outside their reservations into federal trust status, which would exempt the property from most state and local taxes and laws.  For these politicians, local issues associated with new “reservations” where local law enforcement has no authority coupled with taking lucrative tax income off the table negates the benefit of supporting such Indian gaming deals.

Against this backdrop, the Chafee administration is seeking, from its consultant, “an estimate of the present and future value to a tribe of an IGRA casino within 50 miles of Twin River, assuming passage of the “Carcieri fix” at the federal level.”  Conveniently, all the current proposed Wampanoag sites (Raynham and Middleborough) are less than 50 miles away from the Twin Rivers operation.  Rhode Island's 50 mile impact study would hit any proposed Indian gaming operation in the Southeast quadrant of Massachusetts - just draw a line from Springfield to Lynn to figure out the area they will cover seeking to block a new Indian casino.  Don't be surprised to see Connecticut and New York follow suit covering land for any currently conceived Indian gaming operation in Massachusetts

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