It's been about a year since Gov. Deval Patrick signed legislation authorizing three casinos and a single slot parlor and now the Massachusetts Gaming Commission has a detailed blueprint on how to implement the Expanded Gaming Act.
At last week's commission meeting, the board unanimously approved the 169-page strategic plan authored by consultants Michael & Carroll and Spectrum Gaming Group. The plan includes a detailed timeline for key milestones, recommends staffing levels for the fledgling agency and estimates a future budget of $20.6 million for the commission by 2016 -- the same year consultants predict that a full-scale casino will open for gamblers.
"As a result of a significant amount of research and the collaboration with renown gaming industry experts, I am confident that this plan builds on the best practices of gaming regulation from across the country and a wide range of jurisdictions," Stephen Crosby, chairman of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, said in a prepared statement.
The legislation authorized three resort-style casinos and a single slot parlor in the Bay State. Included in the legislation was an opportunity for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and Patrick to negotiate a compact for a tribal casino.
While the tribe and state met the goal of negotiating that compact by the July 31 deadline, it was rejected by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, sending them back to the negotiating table. The tribe is proposing a $500 million casino in Taunton, but still has a tangle of legal hurdles to overcome to get 140 acres in Taunton taken into federal trust for the project.
The strategic plan produced by consultants makes reference to the rejected compact and outlines what some of the responsibilities of the commission could be in providing oversight for the Indian casino should the compact be signed.
Among the two dozen questions consultants say the commission must flesh out in the coming months is whether to put a deadline on the tribe getting a compact federally approved. The commission must also decide whether to approve rules to deal with its regulatory and financial oversight, and licensing and monitoring roles as they pertain to a tribal casino, the consultants wrote.
Consultants also question whether the commission should seek clarification on jurisdictional issues surrounding criminal activity and whether to begin talks with the tribe about a future relationship between the commission and the to-be-established Tribal Gaming Commission.
"Experience in other jurisdictions indicates that these relationships have an enhanced likelihood of success if the sovereign regulatory authorities establish mutually respectful systems of cooperation and coordinated logistical interdependence," the consultants wrote.
Assuming that a new tribal-state compact is reached and approved by the BIA, the commission will have significant operational and oversight involvement, the consultants wrote, which will require "significant resource allocation" by the commission.
Because the compact and land issues are still up in the air, consultants wrote that the issues cannot be addressed with "further precision" in the strategic plan.
The report makes no recommendation of how or when the commission should decide whether to pull the plug on the Wampanoag casino and put the license for Southeastern Massachusetts out to competitive bid. The legislation gives the commission authority to do that if it determines that the tribe is unable to secure land in federal trust for the casino project.
Crosby has said the commission will provide the tribe an adequate amount of time to get its federal approvals, but in a recent interview said commissioners need to begin talking about the issue.
Tribe spokeswoman Brooke Scannell had no immediate comment on the newly released strategic plan.
Jason Lefferts, a spokesman for the state, said Patrick's administration is in "active conversations" with the tribe and is focused on reaching a fair agreement.
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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