The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s Massachusetts casino project has been thrown into doubt after the tribe withdrew its request for federal recognition of its land rights.
On Tuesday, Mashpee Wampanoag representatives issued a statement saying the tribe was no longer seeking a Department of Interior opinion on whether land taken into trust by the federal government in 2015 qualified for continued sovereign land status. The Department’s opinion was expected to be issued on Tuesday.
Last year, a federal judge ruled that the government erred by taking the land into trust, so the Department of Interior began an investigation into whether the land – 170 acres in Mashpee and 151 acres near East Taunton – qualified for sovereign control status under a different legal category.
The East Taunton acreage south of Boston is the prospective home of the tribe’s First Light Resort & Casino, but East Taunton residents aren’t wild about having a casino in their backyard and their legal challenge led to last year’s federal court ruling blocking the plan.
The tribe’s Tuesday statement said it reserved its right to resubmit its request for a ruling to the Department of Interior at some future date, but the tribe is now throwing its weight behind an appeal of the 2015 federal court ruling. The tribe offered no further details on its change in strategy, which it said was made “in consultation with the U.S. Department of Interior,” but insists that the land remains in trust while their appeal is pending.
The tribe had inked a seven-year deal with casino operator Genting Malaysia to run the First Light Resort’s gaming operations and the increasingly dubious legal situation led the Malaysian firm to warn investors last month that it could lose its investment in $274m worth of promissory notes issued by the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Gaming Authority as well as forego nearly $25m in projected interest income on those notes.
Genting was also expected to reap an annual $25m in revenue from its management of the property’s gaming operations. Following the tribe’s latest announcement, Maybank Investment Bank Research said it had established a target price for Genting Malaysia shares of RM5.40 (US $1.26) but this could be cut by RM0.40 if the First Light project doesn’t go forward.