Mashpee tribe touts economic benefits as members visit future Massachusetts casino site

Mashpee Wampanoag tribe and Taunton city officials on Monday touted the economic benefits of a $500 million casino the tribe hopes to build in the southeastern Massachusetts city.

Mayor Thomas Hoye said the city would see at least $8 million annually from casino revenues and have the casino operator subsidize dozens of new police and firefighter jobs, not to mention provide thousands of local jobs in a once bustling manufacturing center.

"We have many needs in our community," he said. "This partnership offers many opportunities."

Tribe officials also laid out some of the first work to be undertaken next spring, including about $30 million in traffic-related improvements around the proposed site, a business and industrial park off Route 140 near the Silver City Galleria Mall.

"It's quite an undertaking," said Dave Matton, the tribe's consultant on the project.

The joint news conference came after the federal government, in a surprise Friday decision, accepted the tribe's application for land in trust status for 170 acres in Mashpee and 151 acres in Taunton, some 50 miles away.

The announcement ends years of uncertainty for the tribe, which received federal recognition in 2007 but traces its ancestry to the Indians who first encountered the Pilgrims nearly four centuries ago.

"For me, this was more important than federal recognition," said Ellen Sharpe, who was among dozens of tribal members who visited the future casino site Monday, chanting and cheering as they posed for photos in front of a largely vacant portion of the property. "You don't really have anything until you get your land base, you know?"

Paula Peters, whose father had been among the tribal leaders who had pushed for federal recognition in the 1970s, said: "This has been a long time coming."

Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Chairman Cedric Cromwell said there's no timeline for opening the casino yet.

The tribe still needs to finalize purchase of the land, which the tribe has had options on for years.

Cromwell says the tribe isn't aware of any legal challenges that might hold up the development.

But he said the tribe will be asking the state to "honor" the tribal casino agreement it reached with then-Gov. Deval Patrick's administration in 2013.

That deal, which Gov. Charlie Baker's office confirmed Monday still remains in effect, calls for the state to collect 17 percent of the tribal casino's gambling revenue.

But if the state approves another casino in southeastern Massachusetts, it gets no share of the tribal casino's revenues.

"It's law. It's regulation. It's what the state and the tribe agreed to," Cromwell said.

The state Gaming Commission is considering awarding a resort casino license to a developer that's proposed a casino in nearby Brockton.