Mass. tribe's land quest continues, despite opposition 6-22-07

BOSTON (AP) - The Mashpee Wampanoag Indians are negotiating to buy another 200 acres in Middleborough to develop into a casino, despite stepped-up opposition and a slow-down in talks with town leaders.

The tribe owns or has options on more than 350 acres in Middleborough and now is talking to a family trust that is shopping 202 acres abutting the tribe's new parcels.

“Our land is for sale. If the tribe wants to buy it, we'll sell it to them,” said Cheryl Kutzy, who said her family has been contacted by the tribe. “I'm looking toward retirement.”

Neither Kutzy nor tribe spokeswoman Amy Lambiaso would speculate about a price. The tribe paid the town $1.8 million this month for about 125 acres. At that price per acre, the market for the 202 acres would be about $3 million.

“The tribe continues to see Middleborough as an attractive spot,” said Lambiaso, who confirmed the tribe is talking to the family.

At potentially 550 acres, the tribe would be well positioned to compete with Connecticut's two casinos, said University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth professor Clyde Barrow, who studies the gambling industry.

“They could easily build a Mohegan-Foxwoods level casino with that type of acreage,” he said.

Kutzy, who is a longtime school teacher in town, lives on property beside the 202 acres. She said she supports the casino because class sizes are increasing while librarians are being laid off.

“This is the golden goose that could answer the town's prayers,” she said.

Casino opponents, however, have asked Attorney General Martha Coakley to investigate the town's sale of 125 acres to the tribe, contending it was improper because it included 20 acres the town did not own. Coakley spokemsan Harry Pierre said the letter was received Thursday and is under review.

Meanwhile, the tribe's offer remains on the table to pay the town $7 million annually for 10 years in exchange for the town's support in hosting a casino. The Board of Selectmen delayed a vote on the offer last week, and hired a lawyer with expertise in the gambling industry to help negotiate.

By law, the tribe can build a “level 2” gambling facility, with machines similar to slots. If the state changed the law to allow “level 3” gambling, the tribe could build a casino with slot machines and games such as poker, blackjack and roulette.

Gov. Deval 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.