Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe interested in casino 6-16-07

BOSTON (AP) - The Aquinnah Wampanoag Indians have declared that they'll seek to open a casino if the state's other federally recognized tribe reaches a deal with Massachusetts to open a casino.

“The state has to treat the tribes in the same way,” Donald Widdiss, chairman of the Aquinnah Wampanoags of Martha's Vineyard, told The Boston Globe on Saturday.

The Mashpee Wampanoags hope to build a casino on land they've purchased in Middleborough, relying in part on the financial backing of developers of the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut.

“What they get, we get. Our rights are clear, the same as Mashpee,” Widdiss said.

The Mashpee Wampanoag tribe won federal recognition this year. By law, the tribe can already build a so-called “level 2” gaming facility, with machines similar to slot machines. If the state changed the law to allow “level 3” gambling, the tribe would be able to build a casino with slot machines and games such as poker, blackjack and roulette.

The Mashpee Wampanoags may also try to negotiate a compact with Gov. Deval Patrick, and try to bypass legislative approval, to open a casino.

The Aquinnah Wampanoags have been a federally recognized tribe since 1987. They tried to open a casino in southeastern Massachusetts in the 1990s, but the plan stalled when lawmakers rejected a proposal to have the tribe take over state land.

Widdiss said the tribe is fielding development proposals from would-be partners. He wouldn't identify them, nor would he offer possible locations. He ruled out the tribe's 500 acres on Martha's Vineyard.

The Mashpee Wampanoags said developers Sol Kerzner and Len Wolman - known as Trading Cove Mashpee - can provide as much as $1 billion in capital for the development of a major, destination casino. The two are no longer involved in Mohegan Sun, one of the world's largest casinos.

State Treasurer Timothy Cahill has said the state should try to beat the tribe to the punch by building one or more resort casinos. But opponents, including House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, D-Boston, remain cool to the idea.

Patrick has said he would wait for the recommendations of a panel he appointed to study the issue before deciding his position.

At stake is hundreds of millions in possible revenue for the state at a time when lottery sales are sagging and Patrick has proposed billions in new spending.