On June 18, 2012, the US Supreme Court issued its decision in Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians v. Patchak. The Court’s ruling could affect the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s plan for a casino in Taunton. In this case, the federal government took certain land into trust for an Indian tribe, which means that it took ownership of the land to allow the tribe to use it. The tribe, also known as the Gun Lake Tribe, planned to build a casino on the land. The Supreme Court held that a neighbor, Patchak, could sue the government to stop the casino project on the ground that the law did not permit the government to take the land into trust for this particular tribe. The Court held, by a vote of eight to one, that the federal government had waived its sovereign immunity to a suit challenging the government’s takeover of certain land in trust for an Indian tribe.
Presently, a group of Taunton residents has retained an attorney and is considering filing a legal challenge in an effort to prevent a casino being built in the city. The Mashpee, whose casino proposal won support from Taunton voters in a recent referendum, are currently negotiating a compact with the governor. If the state legislature doesn’t approve a compact between the state and the tribe by July 31, that would open the process to commercial bidders.
However, this casino hinges upon the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe getting land into trust. If they don’t get the land in Taunton taken into trust by the Department of Interior, the Mashpee will not be able to build a casino. Taking land into trust is a long and complex procedure, involving a federal approval process created by Congress for federally recognized tribes. The Mashpee are attempting to have two tracts of land simultaneously declared initial Indian reservations and taken into trust as the tribe’s initial reservation. The longstanding challenge for the Mashpee, as for many tribes, is that tribal gambling can only occur on sovereign Indian land. Tribes can buy land like any other organization, but they must persuade the US Department of the Interior to take the land into trust on behalf of the tribe, in order to make the land eligible for a tribal casino. The most prominent nearby examples of tribal casinos are Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun in Connecticut.
With the Patchak decision, The US Supreme Court has thrown another obstacle in the path of the Mashpee Wampanoag and other tribes seeking to develop casinos under federal law, by expanding the number of people who can file lawsuits to challenge the gambling developments. Exposing tribal projects to more litigation could cause years of delay, increase costs for developers, and potentially make it more difficult and expensive to get financing for tribal casinos. To download the decision logon to http://www.supremecourt.gov/.
Posted by: Mark D. Donovan, Esq.