Mashpee Wampanoag tribe plans $500 million Taunton casino with hotels and water park

A rendering from the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe for the proposed Taunton casino.
A rendering from the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe for the proposed Taunton casino.

TAUNTON—The tribal casino being pitched by the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe would be built in phases over five years and eventually would include a water park, three hotels, and high-end retail shops, according to plans the tribe unveiled here today.

The Mashpee estimated that the total cost of the project would exceed $500 million, which happens to be the minimum investment required by commercial casino developers under state law. The tribe’s financial backer is Malaysian casino giant Genting.

Speaking at City Hall, Mayor Tom Hoye said the city continues to negotiate with the tribe, but the city will insist that it be paid a portion of the casino’s annual revenue.

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“Absolutely,’’ he said.

The mayor also said the casino, planned for 146 acres just off Route 24, represents the city’s best shot at building a vibrant, long-term economy in the financially challenged Southeastern Massachusetts city. The tribe estimates that building and operating the casino would generate a $120 million annual infusion into the city and region’s economy.

“The next six weeks may be the most important in the history of our city,” Hoye said at a press conference. “We only get one shot at a project of this magnitude.”

As a tribal casino, the Mashpee project would bypass the state approval process and would be authorized, if approved, under federal law. The tribe is in negotiations with Governor Deval Patrick over the terms under which the casino would operate, and how much of its revenue, if any, would go to the state.

Commercial casino resorts will pay a 25 percent tax on gambling revenues, a figure set by state law. Tribal casinos on Indian land are generally not subject to state gambling laws, except when negotiated as part of the tribe’s deal with the governor.

The tribe claims that the project will create 1,000 construction jobs and 2,500 permanent jobs in the first phase of its operation. The project will use union labor, according to the Mashpee.

“We want to put people back to work,” said Cedric Cromwell, chairman of the tribe.

Cromwell said negotiations with the Patrick administration and the city were going well, and expressed confidence the tribe could win approvals for the site, which is not tribal land. He said tribal officials will meet Friday with representatives from the Interior Department.

Over the past several years, the Mashpee Wampanoag have made similar announcements with much fanfare in other communities, dating back to the tribe’s 2007 agreement with the town of Middleborough to develop a casino in that community. Those plans were later abandoned. Plans for a casino in Fall River also fell through.

Many obstacles remain before construction can begin in Taunton.

The tribe holds options to buy land at the junction of Routes 24 and 140, and has applied to have the federal government take the land into trust for the tribe, which would effectively convert it to tribal land. But the land-in-trust process could take years and require court action or an act of Congress.

The tribe is also racing against the clock in its negotiations with Patrick. State law delays any bidding for a commercial casino license in the southeastern part of the state to give the tribe a chance to make progress toward a tribal casino. But if the talks with Patrick fail to produce an agreement by the end of July, the state gambling commission must solicit bids from commercial casino developers for proposals in Southeastern Massachusetts.

“We’ve got some work to finish by the end of July in terms of negotiations with the tribe on the compact. But I think the lawyers are making good progress. There is very open communication,” Patrick said today on the “Ask the Governor” radio segment on WTKK-FM.

The tribe’s development plans include: a 150,000 square-foot casino, with “at least two fine dining restaurants, an international buffet and a multi-venue food court,” according to the tribe; 900 hotel rooms across three hotels; business conference rooms and an event center; and “a state-of-the-art, family-oriented indoor and outdoor water park.”

Taunton residents will vote on the proposal on June 9. The vote is not binding under law.

The tribe is planning an open house for local residents to learn more about the project on Saturday, May 5, from 4 to 6 p.m. at Taunton High School.