By JAY LINDSAY
FALL RIVER, Mass. (AP) â¿¿ The state gambling commission on Thursday considered extending an Indian tribe's exclusive right to build a casino in southeastern Massachusetts, with the tribe claiming progress on its project but others saying it will never happen and the region should be opened to other bidders.
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission didn't vote on the issue Thursday, but chair Steve Crosby said he hoped it could within three weeks.
The state's 2011 expanded gambling law created one casino license each for three geographic areas and gave preference in the southeastern region to a federally recognized Indian tribe. But it allows the commission to consider other bidders if the tribe's plans look unworkable.
The Mashpee Wampanoag are planning a $500 million resort casino in Taunton.
On Thursday, tribal council chair Cedric Cromwell said the tribe is well ahead of the state's other proposed casino projects. Among the milestones Cromwell listed: overwhelming project approval in a Taunton referendum and a newly negotiated revenue-sharing compact with the state, announced Wednesday.
He predicted the casino would be open by this time next year.
"We have systematically worked to meet every condition," Cromwell said, adding there was "no reason whatsoever" to open up the bidding.
But state and local officials from communities that want to compete for a casino said getting federal clearances will take the tribe years, and a U.S. Supreme Court decision prevents the tribe from getting the needed land, anyway.
They repeatedly brought up the 2009 Supreme Court ruling that limits the government's ability to hold land in trust for tribes recognized after 1934. The Mashpee tribe was federally recognized in 2007. It says it can proceed by showing it was under federal jurisdiction before 1934.
But state Rep. Robert Koczera, from New Bedford, said the tribe "faces insurmountable obstacles" getting the land in trust because the Supreme Court decision doesn't allow it.