House Bill 312 (HB 312) looks to give federal support to the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe of Massachusetts. It would return two pieces of land in the state and designate it as sovereign tribal territory, which is, by most opinions, a noble cause. However, the bill is not finding support from President Donald Trump. He has publicly asserted that he will veto the bill if it reaches the Resolute desk, and it isn’t simply because the legislation is backed by his nemesis, Senator Elizabeth Warren.
The issue with HB 312 is that it seeks to authorize a land grant to a tribe that wasn’t designated a federally-recognized tribe under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 (IRA). The Mashpee tribe didn’t receive its designation until 2007. However, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the federal government, in no capacity, can allocate land to any tribe not recognized by the IRA.
Even if that were the case, there are plenty of examples of exceptions being made and governments deciding to bend the rules from time to time. The 312 acres in question that would be given to the tribe doesn’t seem like a huge issue.
However, Trump is ready to reject the bill and tweets, “Republicans shouldn’t vote for [HR] 312, a special interest casino bill backed by Elizabeth (Pocahontas) Warren. It is unfair and doesn’t treat Native Americans equally!”
In dissecting the situation a little further, it becomes more apparent what actually could be going on and why Trump is opposed to the bill. The Mashpee tribe plans on building a casino resort on the property with 3,000 slot machines and 150 table games. It would also offer three hotels, a water park and retail and entertainment spaces, and would be put together through a collaboration with the Genting Group out of Malaysia.
The word on the casino street is that Matt Schlapp has been able to convince Trump to reject the bill. Schlapp is a presidential adviser and lobbyist who is working for the interests of Twin River Worldwide Holdings, a company that operates the only licensed casinos in Rhode Island. One of those is in Lincoln, only 40 minutes away from where the Mashpee want to plant their resort.
Trump’s reaction has had its intended effect, for now. Democrats in the House have decided to delay voting on the bill in order to determine how to adjust their game plan to move forward.
Trump also has a history of clashing with tribal casino operators. Back in 1993, when Trump was still running (badly) casinos, he took out newspaper ads associating tribal casinos with crime and made comments on a radio program that prompted the National Indian Gaming Association to file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission.
More recently, his Department of the Interior (DOI) was accused of stalling approval of a joint venture tribal casino operation in Connecticut that only received final federal approval after Trump’s DOI chief was forced to resign under numerous ethics probes.
CalvinAyre.com’s Steven Stradbrooke contributed to this report.