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November 23. 2013 6:39PM

Conncecticut tribe's casino debt grows to $70m

Even as its path to casino riches remains uncertain, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe continues to add debt that has reached $70 million, according to tribe sources.

The two sources, who asked to remain anonymous because they were not authorized to speak, said the tribal council voted to borrow $4 million more.

The tribe will see only about $3 million of that money because the first $1 million goes to pay interest accruing from Arkana Ltd., a casino company with ties to Genting Group, one of the world's top casino companies, the source said.

"This is ridiculous," one of the sources said. "I don't know how to stop the train."

The other source said all but three members of the tribal council continue to collect a combined $9,000 per week in salaries, even though a food program for the tribe's low-income families has yet to be restored after it was stopped in August.

Tribe leaders declined to comment.

through spokesman Paula Gates.

In the past, tribal council Chairman Cedric Cromwell has said he won't discuss the tribe's finances because he considers them proprietary. The tribe does reveal its spending and budgets at monthly tribe meetings, Cromwell has said.

The tribe has proposed building a $500 million casino in Taunton. Though the proposal has won support from city leaders and voters and the tribe has negotiated a compact with Gov. Deval Patrick, the casino still faces significant federal hurdles.

The compact is in the hands of the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, which has 45 days to either approve or reject the deal. Meanwhile, the same agency is reviewing the tribe's extensive application to have 170 acres in Mashpee and 155 acres in Taunton taken into federal trust for its initial reservation. That faces a legal tangle that includes whether the federal government even has the authority to approve the land deal for the tribe because of 2009 U.S. Supreme Court ruling known as the "Carcieri decision."

The tribe has said the high court ruling doesn't apply because it was under federal jurisdiction when the Indian Reorganization Act went into effect in 1934.

Casino opponents dispute that claim and the BIA has yet to rule.

Responding to a request from the Times, Patrick's office said this week that it spent $2.3 million of the $5 million authorized by the Legislature on the two compacts negotiated with the tribe. That money, borrowed from state funds, will be repaid once the state begins receiving revenues from casinos.

Gates did not respond to a question asking how much the tribe has spent on legal fees for the two negotiated compacts with Patrick.

The first compact was rejected by the BIA because the tribe was not receiving enough concessions from the state for the revenue it agreed to pay.

Tribes cannot be taxed on their casino revenues.


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