When it comes to casino gambling in Massachusetts only one thing is clear. Inconsistencies! Other than that, the fog around the closed door gaming legislation meetings just keeps getting thicker. Whitey Bulger and Sal Dimasi watch out, your days in the headlines may be numbered as the next band of crooked politicians likely to face investigators and courtrooms is in the wings.
Governor Patrick, Therese Murray and Greg Bialecki clearly don't want anyone paying close attention to what they are doing. They share this closed door characteristic along with a long list of inconsistent statements and backroom dealings with Cedric Cromwell and the Wampanoag tribal leadership. Neither has a straight or consistent story when talking about the special interest tribal preference carve out being proposed for Indian gaming in Massachusetts.
Let's look at the Governor's team first, including Senate President Therese Murray and state economic development director Gregory Bialecki. The Governor recently claimed that the gaming issue in the Bay State was "very complicated" so he had to have expert staff like Greg Bialecki take care of it for him. This is because his former expert Doug Rubin has conveniently left the Governor's side to become a lobbyist for the gaming industry. Now Mr. Bialecki, a former big-time real estate lawyer, is the king of inconsistencies on behalf of Governor Patrick when it comes to the "complicated" gambling issue in Massachusetts.
Bialecki had called for competitive auctions as a requirement for any casino in Massachusetts. However, he, the Governor and Therese Murray now plan to include a special tribal preference carve out to allow non-competitively bid Indian gaming. In 2007 the governor's plan would have required Indian interest groups, like the Mashpee Wampanoag, to bid on casinos along side of anyone else. Yet, an open playing field is not so much the case now.
When responding to inquiries about special treatment for the Wampanoag, Bialecki also testified before the state legislature that he was not aware of any potential competition with the Wampanoag plans for a casino in Southeast Massachusetts. However, several such competitors including KG Urban Enterprises and Foundation Gaming Group had reportedly met with the governor’s team lead by Mr. Bialecki and their plans for casinos in the region have been extensively publicized in the Massachusetts media. For such a complicated issue one would expect the governor's point man to at least be reading the papers if his memory is such that he cannot recall meetings he's had when testifying to the legislature. To give Mr. Bialecki some breathing room, let’s just call that one “perjury lite.”
Further, Mr. Bialecki and the Governor apparently don't even want any Indian competition for the Mashpee Wampanoag either. The Aquinnah tribe has put forward proposals as well for the Southeastern portion of the state, to which Mr. Bialecki testified in 2010:
“It’s been our view, and it’s the view of others as well, that the Mashpee Wampanoags are the one group that have a serious potential ability to establish their tribal gaming rights in Massachusetts.”
Why the Wampanoag deserve such special treatment as the only Indian gaming interest which has to be protected from any commercial or other Indian competitive bid for the right to open a casino is anybody's guess - mine would be that the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on lobbyists and the tens of thousands of dollars in campaign cash from the Wampanoag to the Governor and Senator Murray might have something to do with it. Apparently Jack Abramoff is gone but not forgotten in Massachusetts. Ms. Murray's views are even more complex, first she opposed gaming, now she appears ready to approve it. What has happened to change her mind? Well, as the multi-year leader in campaign contributions by gaming interests, one might assert her change of heart is due to more lobbyist money than you can shake a stick at.
So let's look at the Wampanoag and their inconsistencies on their gaming plans for Massachusetts. In 2007, they claimed they were planning a $1 billion casino in Middleborough offering the state $200 to $300 million a year in "tax" revenues. The tribe has since bailed on their partners in Middleborough and also publicly acknowledged that using their status as an Indian tribe they won't pay a dime in local taxes or gaming license fees. In 2010 they announced an agreement to build a $500 million casino in Fall River this time offering jobs but no tax or revenue sharing for the state. And in 2011, the Wampanoag’s reportedly are in a further reduced investment plan for a “slots in a box” deal in Raynham while threatening to crush any competition by not paying any taxes of licensing fees if the State doesn’t pave the way for their plans.
The Wampanoags, with support from various overseas financial backers – first from South Africa, now from Malaysia, have entered into and reneged on various deals with several South Shore cities and towns. Note to the Mashpee Town Manager Joyce Mason – if you trust the tribe’s “agreement” not to develop a casino in town check out their record on past agreements with other localities. Fall River and Middleboro remember how they were left holding the bag after big time promises by the Wampanoag, Raynham and Mashpee should heed that history. Past tribal leadership Glen Marshall’s convictions for corruption notwithstanding, even Wampanoag tribal council chair Cedric Cromwell has a history of defaulting on personal obligations – not exactly a record one looks for in establishing trusting relationships.
With such inconsistencies and trust issues, coupled with the delays to jobs, lower shared revenues for the state and loss of local controls associated with special carve outs for Indian gaming why are the Governor Patrick and Senator Therese Murray continuing to push for this special deal? The lead recipient of casino lobby money Senator Murray’s two word response to the Boston Chamber of Commerce on her shift in support for casinos tells it all – “Ca-ching!”