The Mashpee Wampanaog Tribe may finally get its wish and get the green-light to build the proposed $1 billion First Light Resort & Casino in Massachusetts.

The project was put on hold over seven years ago, after opponents to the project claimed victory in a legal battle that has now spanned three US presidents. On February 10, Judge Angel Kelley released a 31-page document confirming the Biden administration’s decision to grant the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe 321 acres of reservation land in Taunton and Mashpee.

Former President Donald Trump’s administration had reversed a 2015 Department of Interior decision to grant the tribe land. It argued the tribe was not under federal jurisdiction in 1934, and therefore could not receive land legally under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. A US District course reversed the 2018 decision in 2020, and sent it back to Biden’s Department of the Interior and reaffirmed the initial decision.

The Department of Interior’s decision was that despite the fact the Mashpee Wampanaog was only federally recognized as a tribe in 2007, historical records going back centuries provided strong indication that the tribe has a significant connection to the allotted lands. The Taunton residents unhappy with the ruling (and plans) have served a notice of appeal, so the legal battle could continue to rumble on.

Despite this, the tribe remains confident it will eventually get the proposed resort over the line. The initial proposal for the casino included, per Taunton Daily Gazette report:

  • 3,000 slot machines
  • 150 table games
  • 40 poker tables
  • 300 hotel rooms
  • Indoor pool
  • 9 retail stores
  • 31,000 square-foot function room
  • Spa and water park
  • 5 meeting rooms
  • Fine dining restaurants, food court and 24-hour cafe
  • Lounge and performance stage

The Gazette also reports that the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe is now considering changing the ‘scope’ of the project although details have not been revealed.

Currently there are no tribal casino facilities in the whole of Massachusetts. There are also limited commercial casinos, with three operating in the state. These are Plainridge Park Casino, MGM Springfield and the Boston Encore. Each operates a retail sportsbook, although handle received is dwarfed by the recently legalized MA mobile sports betting.

Should the Taunton project go ahead, it’ll be interesting to see if the Massachusetts Gaming Commission attempt to regulate or provide reporting on the tribal casino activities, given the complexity of rules in many other states. An approach akin to Michigan where the regulator reports all revenue and contributions may be the desired approach.

The aforementioned regulator recently announced the addition of emerging sport pickleball to its sports betting catalog and the state’s most recent revenue report revealed that in July, handle since legalization surpassed the $2 billion mark.