When the agreement passed by an almost 2-1 margin in 2007, it was supposed to put Middleboro on the map and make the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe rich. Then the troubles began.
It was the largest town meeting in Massachusetts history, as nearly 4,000 Middleboro residents braved searing heat to vote on bringing a resort casino to the town.
The deal, which passed by an almost 2-1 margin, was supposed to put Middleboro on the map and make the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe rich.
Then the troubles began. Tribal Chairman Glenn Marshall resigned and was later sent to prison. The economy tanked. The U.S. Supreme Court dealt a potentially fatal blow in a ruling. The investors stopped paying the tribe.
Now, two years since the deal of July 28, 2007, was struck, the chances of a casino coming to Middleboro appear increasingly slim.
“Everything has sort of gone bad for the deal ever since that day,” said Richard Young of Middleboro, president of the group Casino Free Mass, which opposes the project.
Even some of those who were the deal’s biggest supporters now say they’re close to giving up on it. Former Middleboro Selectman Adam Bond, who helped negotiate the agreement, believes the obstacles may be too many for the casino project.
“I’d say the odds are 50-50, at best,” said Bond, who was the town’s mouthpiece of support for the project two years ago.
The tribe remains more optimistic. Aaron Tobey, vice chairman of the tribal council, said he hasn’t seen any challenge so far that can’t be overcome.
“Just because the process hasn’t been easy, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not going to be done,” Tobey said.
Doubts about the project began with Marshall’s resignation less than a month after the town meeting in 2007. But his reasons for stepping down — he’d been exposed in media reports as a convicted rapist, for one — were just the start.
Marshall would ultimately be sentenced to three years in prison for embezzling $400,000 from the tribe, making illegal campaign contributions and other charges.
The situation has raised questions about whether the casino deal is any good, since Marshall’s name is all over it.
Yet those questions might be irrelevant if a February decision by the U.S. Supreme Court stands.
The “Carcieri” ruling said the U.S. government has no authority to set aside sovereign land for tribes, such as the Mashpee Wampanoags, that were recognized by the government after 1934.
The Mashpee tribe wants land in Middleboro set aside in that way to open the $1 billion resort casino there.
The tribe’s hope is to get Congress to overrule the decision, Tobey said. The tribe has been told by the Bureau of Indian Affairs that a proposal to do this could be sent to the Obama administration, and then to Congress, by the end of the year, according to Tobey.
But some experts say this is unlikely.
“From everything I’ve heard from Washington, that’s just not going to happen,” said Clyde Barrow, a UMass-Dartmouth gambling researcher and supporter of bringing non-Indian commercial casinos to the state.
The Supreme Court ruling may be behind the decision in May by the project’s investors, Sol Kerzner and Len Wolman, to halt monthly payments to the Mashpee, Barrow said.
A spokeswoman for the investors, Diana Pisciotta, did not return a message seeking comment.
The Mashpee tribal council voted in June against upholding its 2006 development deal with the investors, though it remains unclear what this means for the casino project.
“Right now we’re not at liberty to discuss our relationship with our investors,” Tobey said.
The poor economy might also put the Middleboro project in jeopardy — though not in the way many might think, Barrow said.
The economic situation has made Massachusetts lawmakers eager to find new sources of cash, and Barrow believes slot machines — and possibly even casinos — might have a good shot of passage this year.
Many observers believe a commercial casino would likely go to New Bedford, posing serious competition for a Middleboro casino.
The Mashpee tribe and its casino plan are barely mentioned in discussions on gambling at the state level these days, Barrow added.
“Two years ago they held all the cards,” he said. “They were driving the whole process. They’re not driving anything any more.”
Enterprise writer Kyle Alspach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.