A new, federally recognized tribe in Massachusetts and its new tribal chairman intend to take a fresh look at gambling and other economic opportunities.
Brian Weeden, 29, is the new chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and the youngest ever appointed to the position.
Last month, President Joe Biden’s administration affirmed the tribe’s reservation status, allowing for the continued pursuit of a tribal casino. However, anti-casino residents in Taunton, the city where the tribe plans to build its casino, are pushing back.
Legal challenges ahead
Taunton residents argue, since the tribe wasn’t recognized in 1934 when the Federal Indian Reorganization Act was passed, the tribe is not eligible for a reservation. Additionally, opponents also argue that the tribe’s land in Taunton shouldn’t be included in its reservation because the city is 50 miles from the tribe’s home base on Cape Cod.
Regardless, Weeden said these legal challenges would not deter the tribe from pursuing a casino.
Pursuing all economic drivers, including a tribal casino
“We’re back to the drawing board, basically,” Weeden said. “There’s still an appetite for gaming. It just needs to be a smart approach. It has to be different from the past. We need to learn from our mistakes and proceed with caution.”
Weeden said other economic generators are on the table, like tax-free smoke shops, tax-free gas stations, and recreational marijuana shops. The youthful chairman also said he hasn’t ruled out abandoning the casino plan altogether.
“We need to exercise our sovereignty,” Weeden said. “Casinos are just low-hanging fruit.”
Taxes and other hurdles
If the tribe went forward with a casino resort, it would be forcing them to pay a 17% state tax on gaming revenues. Should they go with a traditional slot parlor or bingo hall, it would be exempt from the state gambling tax.
The state has three commercial casinos — MGM Springfield, Encore Boston Harbor, and Plainridge Park.
The Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe also constructs a gambling hall on Martha’s Vineyard. However, it too has legal uncertainty hovering around it.