Casino battle royale - Monday 21st of May 2007

Two of the worlds richest, flashiest casinos soar above rural corners of southern New England, and now the Mashpee Wampanoag Indian tribe of Massachusetts wants to make it three.

The tribe, which needs to work out an agreement with the state, predicts its casino would funnel as much as $100 million a year into the Commonwealths coffers by the time it opens in 2010. Its the same formula that got the operators of Foxwoods, Mohegan Sun, and the state of Connecticut on the same team.

From an economic point of view, a new casino colossus is quite plausible, says Clyde W. Barrow , a gambling specialist at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. Compared to national spending rates, New England still trails other regions. New Englanders spend about $3.5 billion a year on gambling, but would spend another $1.5 billion a year if casinos are added, he says.

Enter the Mashpee Wampanoag, a Cape Cod-based tribe of about 1,460 members who descend from the Indians who first befriended the Pilgrims. Twenty years ago, Congress gave Indian tribes broad rights to operate the kinds of casinos others legally cannot -- so long as they are recognized by Washington as authentic tribes. This year, after decades of trying, the Wampanoags got the nod from Washington. Now, the tribe may feel pressure to act quickly on its casino: Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun are undergoing $1.4 billion dollar expansions.

The Wampanoags still have much to navigate to realize their dream, but the tribe says much of the path has already been blazed in Connecticut.

From a political point of view, the tribes strongest argument may be the amount of money Massachusetts residents are already spending in the Connecticut casinos -- close to a $1 billion a year, which translates into $119 million a year for the Connecticut state budget. Still, opposition is likely to come from those who fear the social reverberations of gambling, increases in traffic, and even a possible threat to the lucrative Massachusetts Lottery game.

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