Mashpee Bounces Back: Revival of the Controversial First Light Casino Project


Massachusetts’ Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Ready to Proceed with Interim Economic Development Project

Posted on: August 28, 2023, 07:18h. 

Last updated on: August 28, 2023, 07:19h.

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe in Massachusetts is excited to announce its plans for an interim economic development project. This project aims to create a stable financial pathway towards the realization of the First Light Casino, which has faced numerous setbacks.

Mashpee, Wampanoag, First Light, Taunton, Massachusetts
An artists’ rendering of the proposed $1 billion First Light Casino, which broke ground in 2016. It’s unclear whether resurrected plans for the casino are the same as the original. (Image: AP)

In a letter to the City Council of Taunton, Massachusetts, Jim Erenzo, Chief Financial Officer of the Tribal Gaming Authority, expressed confidence in the interim project’s ability to generate employment opportunities. The project aims to grow the job market as it transitions from the initial temporary phase to the planned permanent casino.

While the specifics of the temporary project are not disclosed, it is likely to include the establishment of a temporary casino. Such casinos are commonly built to boost finances, train staff, and build a customer base while awaiting the completion of a larger casino resort.

It remains uncertain if the permanent casino will follow the same blueprint as the original billion-dollar project.

Breaking Ground

In 2016, the First Light Casino began construction shortly after the Obama administration designated 321 acres of land in Taunton and Mashpee as the tribe’s sovereign reservation. This step was necessary to facilitate gaming activities under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

The initial plan involved a partnership with Malaysian casino giant Genting, with an estimated cost of $1 billion.

However, plans for the First Light were halted due to a legal challenge led by a group of Taunton residents, supported by casino magnate Neil Bluhm.

Ruling in favor of the residents, US District Judge William Young determined that the federal government’s decision to take the land into trust was incorrect. This was because the tribe had only been officially recognized in 2007, long after the enactment of the Indian Reorganization Act in 1934. Despite the Mashpee tribe’s historical significance, this technicality posed a significant obstacle.

Agreement in Ruling

Consequently, the Trump administration supported Judge Young’s ruling and initiated the process of revoking the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s reservation status. This decision stripped the tribe of its sovereignty and hindered the progress of the casino project.

The tribe found itself in a financially precarious position, owing hundreds of millions of dollars to Genting, whose commitment to the project was uncertain. However, a senior Genting executive confidentially assured Casino.org in 2019 that the company remained dedicated to the project and remained optimistic about its future.

First Light, Second Chance

In June 2020, US District Judge Paul Friedman overturned the 2016 ruling, deeming it “an abuse of discretion and contrary to law.” The Biden administration later affirmed the land’s status as a reservation for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe.

While uncertainties abound, Brian Weeden, the current chairman succeeding Cedric Cromwell, refrains from confirming the resurrection of the project. Instead, he emphasizes the need for healing after the corruption scandal involving the Cromwell administration.

In February, a federal judge dismissed a renewed legal battle initiated by Taunton residents against the tribe.

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