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MIDDLEBOROUGH

Patrick's stance irks some in town

But casino critics say region benefits

Email|Print| Text size + By Christine Legere
Globe Correspondent / February 10, 2008

Middleborough officials are not surprised by Governor Deval L. Patrick's opposition to the Mashpee Wampanoag's plan to build a casino in Middleborough on what the tribe hopes will be sovereign land. But not everyone is happy about it, either.

"I see this as a power struggle," said a miffed Selectman Wayne Perkins.

Perkins complained that Patrick "never even made an effort to talk to us in Middleborough" and is seeking to stop the Middleborough casino plan, which the town supports, because "obviously, he's concerned the state isn't going to get the money he would like them to get."

Other reaction was mixed. Casino foes cheered Patrick's opposition, saying it speaks to many of their regional concerns, while Selectman Adam Bond, who helped negotiate the casino deal between Middleborough and the tribe, was philosophical.

He said that while he may not agree with Patrick, "He's protecting what he sees to be the interests of the Commonwealth."

"This is a process," Bond said. "Let's see if the tribe, in its response, can address all the issues the governor has raised."

Those issues were raised last week in the state's 125-page submission to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the federal agency that decides whether the Wampanoag land is worthy of federal trust status.

In that document, the governor opposes the federal trust designation, noting the legal problems of the tribe's past chairman, and questioning whether the deal between the tribe and the town is the best one possible.

If granted federal trust status, the land would become sovereign territory, and any casino operation there would be beyond state control. The state could not significantly regulate gambling operations or levy taxes on the proceeds.

Patrick instead supports state-regulated casinos. His proposal for legalized gambling, pending before the state Legislature, includes three commercial casino licenses. The state would be able to collect state and local taxes on those gambling operations.

Yearly revenue estimates for the state, under Patrick's proposal, top $400 million.

Some Middleborough officials, Perkins among them, say the governor is just seeking to keep gambling under his own control.

"The governor's not happy because they're not playing by his set of rules, but by their own rules," said Perkins.

"He cites a ton of issues he has with the Wampanoag proposal for Middleborough," Perkins continued. "But then he says that three commercial casinos in the state would be fine. How are three better than one?"

Casino opponents, meanwhile, welcomed Patrick's submission to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, saying it highlighted many of the issues they have raised over the past several months.

"What the governor has done is show Middleborough is not the right place for a casino," said Rich Young, president of a casino-opposition group called Casinofacts. "For those of us who have been fighting this, this is vindication. Now they will have to address every one of the concerns the governor raised, and that will make the process much longer and much more complicated."

Steven Smith, executive director of the Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District, an agency representing more than 20 communities in Southeastern Massachusetts, agrees with the governor's comments.

"What he's saying is he wants their proposal to go through his process, and we've been supportive of that," Smith said. "While the governor's process isn't perfect, it's much more open and allows surrounding communities to have input. The surrounding towns are left out of any direct dealing with the Middleborough casino."

An 18-town Regional Task Force on Casino Impacts has been closely tracking the governor's bid for legalized gambling as well as the tribe's proposal for Middleborough.

Task force member David Wojnar, a selectman from Acushnet, said he "concurs wholeheartedly" with the governor's statements. "My biggest concern with [the tribe's] proposal is it takes local and state control out of the equation," Wojnar said.

West Bridgewater Selectman Matthew Albanese, also on the task force, was relieved that regional concerns were included by the governor.

"This isn't a matter of questioning the tribe's sovereignty," Albanese said. "It's a matter of reassuring the communities in Massachusetts of the Commonwealth's own sovereignty in dealing with Class III gaming.

If Massachusetts is going to have Class III gaming, I think the Commonwealth should have broad regulatory powers."

But Brian Giovanoni, who chaired the Middleborough Casino Study Committee prior to the town's July vote on a deal with the Wampanoag, said that while Patrick's 125-page objection included quotes from the committee's report that noted problems, many of those problems have already been solved.

"I can pretty much answer half the questions he asks in there, but he never contacted me or anyone else," Giovanoni said.

The next step in the land-to-trust process is set for March 4, when federal officials will hold a hearing in Middleborough, prior to setting the scope of their lengthy environmental review.

Christine Legere can be reached at christinelegere@yahoo.com.

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