Mashpee Tribe Casino Site Remains A Mystery As Bridgewater Developer Makes His Pitch
By: Geoff Spillane
The jockeying for position for three geographically-designated casino licenses in Massachusetts has begun, but the gaming plans of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe remain a closely guarded secret.
With New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft joining forces with Las Vegas casino mogul Stephen A. Wynn to pitch a high-end gaming and resort complex in Foxboro, just outside of the southeastern district, and Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino joining the fray promoting Suffolk Downs as an optimal location, casino banter dominated the news in Massachusetts this week.
The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe maintained its strategy of silence, fueling speculation that it may have been blindsided by the Foxboro proposal backed by two of the nation’s wealthiest men.
However, the Enterprise confirmed this week the tribe has been in contact with a Bridgewater property owner and developer.
The Mashpee have preferential status for a casino license in southeastern Massachusetts, but the proposed Foxboro project, while officially in the central and eastern Massachusetts zone, could not be any closer to the tribe’s designated region. Two of Foxboro’s neighboring towns, North Attleboro and Mansfield in Bristol County, are considered part of the southeastern zone.
Clyde W. Barrow, director of the Center for Policy Analysis at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and an expert on gaming issues in New England, said this week he believes the Kraft-Wynn public display of affection in Foxboro last weekend caught the tribe off guard and “shook them up a bit.”
A spokesman for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe said there would be no interviews or statements regarding the Foxboro proposal.
Mr. Kraft, who referred to Mashpee as “one of his hometowns” at a Gillette Stadium event last week, owns property in Popponesset.
According to Dr. Barrow, Foxboro and Norfolk County are generally considered part of southeastern Massachusetts, but were not placed in that zone specifically because the legislature wanted to push a casino farther south, toward the cities of New Bedford and Fall River.
“The gaming commission, when appointed, will not want to see two casinos and a potential slot parlor at the former Raynham Park dog track located within minutes of each other. It defeats the purpose of zoning,” he said, adding that the commission would also not leave the entire northeast part of the state open to poaching of revenue from New Hampshire, which is expected to expand gaming.
The Foxboro location may face intense opposition from residents, as well as the National Football League, Dr. Barrow said.
While the location of the casino host city or town remains uncertain, one thing is clear—the tribe needs to act fast to maintain its competitive advantage. The tribe must procure land, receive a referendum vote of approval by citizens of the host community, and negotiate a compact with the governor by July 31, 2012.
The Enterprise confirmed this week that the tribe has scoped out a 170-acre parcel of land owned by the Claremont Companies in Bridgewater near the junction of Routes 495 and 24.
According to Elias Patoucheas, president of the Claremont Companies, a Bridgewater-based real estate development firm that specializes in resort and hotel development, the company has been in discussion with the tribe about the land, but no commitments have been made.
“The site is ideal for a gaming facility, for the tribe or a commercial casino operator. We have the only large site in southeastern Massachusetts with very close proximity to two major highway interchanges and are in the process of permitting the property for hotel, office, and retail development,” Mr. Patoucheas said.
The West Bridgewater town manager said this week that the town planner there received a call from the tribe about three months ago inquiring about potential sites, but has not heard anything since.
Another issue that may be delaying a location announcement from the tribe is the price of land. Mr. Barrow said that when landowners hear the words “tribe” and “casino” the asking price soars, since landowners think the tribe has a unlimited supply of cash, which it does not.
“Honestly, I don’t think the tribe is close to a deal. It would have leaked out by now,” Dr. Barrow said.