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Cahill assails Middleborough deal for casino

State Treasurer Timothy Cahill said that investors and the tribe would reap more benefit from a casino than would the town. State Treasurer Timothy Cahill said that investors and the tribe would reap more benefit from a casino than would the town. (JOHN TLUMACKI/GLOBE STAFF/file)

State Treasurer Timothy Cahill said yesterday that the proposed casino deal offered by the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe is not good for Middleborough and that if residents approve it, "they're making a mistake."

"This is at least four or five years away, and no one is getting any revenue until it's built," Cahill said, with a crucial Town Meeting vote on the agreement set for Saturday. "As the chief financial officer of the Commonwealth, this is not a deal I would have negotiated."

He said the tribe's offer, $11 million the first year, for hosting a casino that is expected to take in more than $1 billion a year is "not a lucrative deal" for the town.

"It will change the entire fabric of the community, but it's the tribe and the investors who will make the lion's share of the money," he said in an interview. "There are a lot of holes in the agreement. I don't see where it helps the town financially."

Cahill, who in May came out in favor of destina tion resort casinos in Massachusetts, favors having the state auction the right to build commercial gambling resorts to private developers. He believes that the state would get more money from a private casino, which would be in competition with a casino run by a tribe.

The treasurer also said that the town could be wasting money by holding Saturday's meeting, because the tribe would still have to clear significant hurdles before it could move forward with its $1 billion resort. The meeting "could end up costing $100,000, which is significant for a town that has no money," he said. "There's the election itself and the extra police. It's going to be logistically very challenging.

"Everyone is rushing to do it. What's the rush? This is the summer. People could be away and find themselves coming back and realizing their town just voted to become a casino resort town."

Secretary of State William F. Galvin has raised concerns about how the vote will be conducted. His office is working with town officials on voting procedures, an office spokesman said, adding that Galvin plans to send observers to the Town Meeting.

About 10,000 of the town's 15,000 registered voters are expected to show up for what is expected to be the largest Town Meeting in the state's history.

Casino backers disputed Cahill's remarks, asserting that the deal is the most generous ever brokered between a municipality and a tribe in the United States.

"This is not only a very good deal for Middleborough, but it's one that can be approved and will be approved by the federal government," said Scott Ferson, spokesman for the Wampanoag tribe.

Supporters acknowledged, however, that the casino might not open for several years. To operate a casino, the tribe must negotiate a compact with the state.

Governor Deval Patrick is weighing the possibility of allowing casinos. Patrick was briefed yesterday by Daniel O'Connell, state secretary of economic affairs, who was asked by the governor in February to head a study group and deliver a summary of existing research on the pros and cons of gambling. Patrick has said he will announce before Labor Day whether he supports an expansion in gambling.

But key lawmakers, including House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi and Daniel E. Bosley, House chairman of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, have been staunch opponents of expanded gambling.

If casino gambling were approved by the state, even if it were intended to be commercial, the tribe would be free under federal law to open a casino.

In addition, the tribe also needs approval of the federal government to convert the Middleborough site into a tribal reservation in order to build the casino on sovereign, tax-exempt land. That process could take several years, opponents and supporters agree.

Selectman Adam Bond of Middleborough, who helped negotiate the agreement with the tribe, said the town would receive $2 million up front, millions in annual revenue once the casino opens, and side benefits such as upgraded infrastructure, including a rebuilt gas and electric plant and waste-water system.

"Rome wasn't built in a day, and every great journey starts with a single step," he said. "That's where we are right now. Where you can end up in the future is with a casino resort drawing business to Middleborough."

The tribe's proposal is far preferable to a state-regulated private casino business, Bond said.

"They would create a big bureaucracy with how many positions paying over $100,000 a year and how many positions appointed by politicians?" he said. "Will this be another Big Dig?"

Meanwhile, religious groups are starting to mobilize in opposition to a casino. The Massachusetts Council of Churches is rounding up volunteers to lobby Middleborough residents to reject the agreement.

"A casino in Middleborough would negatively affect the quality of life of all citizens in the area, including those residing in surrounding cities and towns," says a bulletin issued yesterday by the Massachusetts Catholic Conference. "Yet, casinos are far from a done deal if citizens act now. Massachusetts citizens, not out-of-state gambling prospectors, can determine their own fate. Thus help is needed in advance of this weekend's vote."

Sean P. Murphy of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Andrea Estes can be reached at