Enterprise Staff Writer Posted Feb. 4, 2016 at 10:42 pm Updated at 12:09 AM
Middleboro Attorney Adam Bond said the lawsuit is being partially funded by Neil Bluhm, chairman of the Chicago-based Rush Street Gaming, which is pursuing a competing $650 million casino in Brockton on the Brockton Fairgrounds.
BOSTON - A group of Taunton residents filed a lawsuit on Thursday to overturn the U.S. Department of Interior's decision to declare land in trust for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, which it plans to use to build a $500 million casino in the city.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Boston on Thursday, argues that the Department of Interior did not have the authority to award the tribe the reservation land in Taunton because the Mashpee Wampanoags were not under federal jurisdiction in 1934. The lawsuit points to the 2009 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Carcieri v. Salazar, which stated that the benefits of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 are limited to tribes that were "now under federal jurisdiction" at the time of the law's passage.
The 30-page lawsuit also states the secretary of the Department of Interior gave an "unprecedented" reading of the definition of the word "Indian" as defined by the Indian Reorganization Act, by "falsely proclaiming ambiguity where none exists."
The federal lawsuit lists 24 plaintiffs, who are citizens from East Taunton. The lawsuit was filed by David H. Tennant and Matthew Frankel, of the Boston-based firm Nixon Peabody, and Middleboro-based lawyer Adam Bond.
"They couldn't get through Congress what is called a Carcieri fix, or Congress doesn't have the stomach or desire to do so," said Bond, reached on Thursday night. "So what feds have done is come up with a decision that is goal-oriented, that will torture and twist language that is plain language, to get results they want. They thought they could throw it up there and see if the courts accept it."
Bond said the lawsuit is being partially funded by Neil Bluhm, chairman of the Chicago-based Rush Street Gaming, which is pursuing a competing $650 million casino in Brockton on the Brockton Fairgrounds. In November, Bluhm and representatives of his local affiliate, Mass Gaming and Entertainment, testified to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission that the Taunton casino would likely be mired in a legal battle for years, and may never come to fruition. The argument came as the gambling commission weighs the potential oversaturation of the casino market, as they try to decide whether to award a state casino license to the Brockton proposal.
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission said recently that it expects to make a decision on the Brockton casino applicant on March 31. During a public meeting last month, Massachusetts Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby said that it plans to inform its decision on awarding a commercial casino license in the Southeastern Massachusetts region based on the "tribal status" of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and the status of its proposal in Taunton.
"One of the critical variables on whether we make that award or not is the status of the tribe and their proposals," Crosby said.
Arlinda Locklear, a lawyer representing the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, has previously rejected legal arguments against the decision to take the land in federal trust. Locklear has said that she is confident that the casino would go forward, as the U.S. Department of Justice was involved in the decision to declare reservation land in Taunton. The Mashpee Wamponoag Tribe previously stated that it plans to start construction on its "Project First Light" casino this spring, with funding from the Malaysian multinational Genting Group, at its 150-acre site ne