Taunton Loses Patience With Wampanoag Tribe [OPINION]
The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, which has held up the development of a casino in the southeast region of the state for years, may face new problems. Taunton Mayor Shaunna O'Connell says the tribe owes the city millions of dollars from a host agreement the two sides negotiated long before she became mayor years ago. O'Connell told me on my Friday program that it's time the city took steps to collect the money.
The casino was proposed for land just east of the former Silver City Galleria that once housed a small industrial park. The tribe obtained the property and began preparing for construction, before being granted authority by the federal government. The whole issue of whether the Mashpee would be recognized as a tribe, eligible to put land into federal trust for a casino, was still in the courts. While that issue appears to have been settled in the tribe's favor, at least for now, the project continues to face several other hurdles.
The tribe is deeply in debt to foreign investors as well as the City of Taunton. Its former chairman, Cedric Cromwell, faces trial in U.S. District Court in September on bribery charges connected to the casino project. Mayor O'Connell would like to put this whole thing in the rear view mirror.
Former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick negotiated a casino bill with legislative leaders that allowed for commercial casinos in the Boston and Springfield areas but gave the Mashpee Wampanoags preference in Region C, or Southeastern Massachusetts. It was a bad deal from the start because not many, including Patrick, believed the tribe would ever be able to see the project through. But it all but eliminated competition from Region C for the other two casinos. That may have been the objective.
Taunton is moving forward. The former Silver City Galleria has been demolished and will be replaced by a large warehouse and distribution center. That means lots of jobs and revenue for the city. O'Connell would like to see the casino land revert back to industrial use as well. That would benefit the taxpayers.
It's time to move past all of this. Perhaps the Gaming Commission could reopen discussions about a commercial casino license in Region C that would finally give this region of the Commonwealth a fair chance to compete for gaming revenues.
Barry Richard is the host of The Barry Richard Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from noon to 3 p.m. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @BarryJRichard58. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.