BOSTON -- The ink was hardly dry yesterday on an agreement to bring casino gambling to Massachusetts when state legislators said they opposed a key component of the proposal.
Under the terms of a contract signed Tuesday by Gov. William F. Weld and the Wampanoag Indian Tribe, the tribe may build a casino, hotel, and theme park in the southeastern city of New Bedford.
But Weld also agreed to an exclusivity provision that prohibits additional casinos from being built in eastern Massachusetts for six years. That idea met with immediate complaints from some state lawmakers, including those from Boston.
Weld said at the signing that the contract will be sent to the legislature for approval, but only on a "yes or no" basis. No amendments can be considered under the arrangement.
But lawmakers throughout the state said yesterday they will want to review each pan of the agreement separately, especially the exclusivity agreement.
Both Senate President William M. Bulger, D-Boston, and Speaker of the House Charles F. Flaherty, D-Cambridge, said several parts of the Republican governor's contract will meet with opposition in the legislature.
"The administration seems tO have focused on expanding gaming since day one," Flaherty said. "The committee on government relations will be meeting to decide on this one." While "it was very generous of the governor to allow the legislature to vote on this," the state constitution requires the legislature to vote on such contracts anyway, he said.
In addition, first deputy attorney general Thomas Green said yesterday that Attorney General L. Scott Harshbarger will "be carefully reviewing the details of this proposal." Green also said that his office will be making sure that the legislature has an opportunity to approve or reject each contract provision.
Within the last few years, several communities in the state held ballot questions on whether residents were interested in having their towns become home to a casino. Almost every town voted in favor of the idea.
But under the Wampanoag agreement, the state would lose its share of the revenues from the casino if others are built in the state. Only one exception has been made for a proposed casino in the western county of Hampden.
Lawmakers do have some leverage: Before casino construction can begin, the legislature will have to approve the tribe's acquisition of land, which is on the town-owned New Bedford Municipal Golf Course.
The potential loss of revenues to the state could be significant if the deal falls through. The Wampanoags have agreed to give the state $105 million if casino revenues hit $375 million or more. The state's share decreases if revenues are lower.
Last year, the Foxwoods casino in Ledyard, Conn., made more than $800 million after prize money was paid out.
Of Massachusetts' total share of the Wampanoag haul, the state would receive 90% of the money and Bristol County, home of New Bedford, would receive the remaining 10%.
At a signing ceremony in New Bedford, the governor hailed the Wampanoag's plan to revitalize the financially strapped city. The casino, hotel, and planned frontier-style theme park are expected to generate between 5,000 and 7,000 new jobs to the city.
New Bedford was once a bustling fishing community. But with that industry in dire straits, the city's economy has been decimated. Although the casino will be built in New Bedford, the tribe's home territory is located at Martha's Vineyard, and approval for the plan will still have to be given by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior and the National Indian Gaming Commission. Part of the contract also would permit the legislature to install more than 400 electronic gambling machines in the state's dog and horse trackS.