At the beginning of his first full year in office, the new Chair of a Massachusetts tribe has revealed he has the intention of taking a wary approach to gambling while keeping his eye on various social challenges and other economic opportunities for the Native American nation.
At the age of 29, Brian Weeden is the youngest-ever Chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe. In December 2021, the tribe’s reservation was officially affirmed by the administration of President Joe Biden, which overturned a controversial order of President Donald Trump’s administration. The recently announced decision provides the tribe with the legal right to continue pursuing its long-time dream of casino expansion. However, Mr. Weeden explained that the leaders of the Mashpee Wampanoags were also willing to make the tribe’s members consider the idea once again, especially when taking into account the fact that the gambling landscape has changed a lot in the last few years.
Currently, there are three major casinos in the state of Massachusetts – Encore Boston Harbor, MGM Springfield, and Plainridge Park. Another local tribe, the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe has also started the construction of a smaller gambling venue on Martha’s Vineyard, although the project has faced legal challenges. For the time being, local lawmakers are considering the proposed legalization of sports betting.
In a wide-ranging interview that took place a few days ago, the new Chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, who took over the position in May 2021, explained that the tribe would have to adopt a smart and more cautious approach in terms of its gambling expansion dreams.
Latest Legal Challenge Has Not Been a Discouragement for Casino Plans
At the same time, Taunton residents who have been against the establishment of a casino venue in their city have approached a Boston federal judge, urging them to resume their legal challenge to the project.
As they did before, they now argue that the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe was not eligible for a reservation due to the fact that the Native American nation was not categorized as an officially recognized tribe back in 1934 when the Indian Reorganization Act became law.
Taunton residents who are against the project have also argued that the lands of the tribe in the city should have never been included in its reservation assets because they are situated about 50 miles away from the home base of the Native American nation in Cape Cod and have not been part of the tribe’s historical domain. The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe’s reservation lands include about 170 acres in the town of Mashpee, as well as a further 150 acres in the city of Taunton.
Chairman Weeden explained that the latest legal challenge faced by the Native American nation would not discourage the tribe which history could be traced a few centuries back in time but got official federal recognition in 2007. The tribe, which has approximately 3,000 members, is looking to reach new financial terms in order to place some limits on its debt to Genting Berhad, a Malaysian casino developer it has as a partner. The debt has been estimated at about $600 million and growing but is due only in case the tribe manages to open a gambling venue.
Now, the new Chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoags said that tribal members should take into consideration whether to curtail their casino ambitions and choose a more modest approach. As explained by Mr. Weeden, the tribe should also consider the possibility of fully abandoning the casino project and think of other ways that would help it bring financial stability to the tribe, such as the opening of tax-free gas stations, tax-free smoke shops, and other economic development initiatives on its reservation lands.