BOSTON -- Two tribes of Native Americans in New England will have to gain federal approval before proceeding with plans to construct casinos in the region, several sources said last week.
The Wampanoag tribe in Massachusetts and the Narragansett tribe in Rhode Island have taken major steps within the last few weeks to secure their plans to build casinos.
Gov. Bruce G. Sundlun of Rhode Island entered into a contract with the Narragansetts last week to construct a casino in West Greeriwich. Although he was once opposed to casino gambling in the state, Sundltm said that repeated defeats in the U.S. Supreme Court have forced his hand.
A few days earlier, Gov. William F. Weld of Massachusetts said that his administration has signed a letter of understanding with the Wampanoags to construct a casino in New Bedford.
While the Republican Weld will have to deal with promised opposition in the Democratic-controlled legislature and Sundlun's plan will depend on voters' approval of an initiative this fall, both tribes will have to convince the federal government of the propriety of their plans, according to a statehouse source in Boston.
Since neither tribe plans to build its casino on tribal land, it will be necessary for the federal government to set aside tracts of land in trust for the tribes.
Although placing tribal land into trust has been in practice since before the American Revolution, it was not until the 1930s that tribes began to gain any land from the program.
At its inception, the trust provision was used by the U.S. government as a means of appropriating tribal land and forcing the tribes onto smaller tracts of land or reservations.
In the 1930s, though, the government played a more benevolent role in helping tribes reestablish their own governments and ancient land holdings.
In 1988, native American tribes received a big boost when the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act was approved. The act allows tribes greater flexibility in establishing casinos and high stakes bingo for tribal profit.
The 1988 law allows tribes to receive other lands if the Department of the Interior deems the casinos to be necessary for the tribes' success. Since both the Wampanoags and the Narragansetts are considered to be fairly poor tribes, federal approval is expected.
Holding a tract of land in trust makes the casino land similar to a military base. It is not subject to state or local taxes or zoning laws.
The Wampanoags' tribal home is on Martha's Vineyard off Massachusetts and the Narragansetts' home is in Chariestown, R.I.
The tribes' decision to pursue casino gambling was helped along by the success of another tribe's venture, the Mashantucket-Pequot casino in Ledyard, Conn.
In 1993, the Connecticut casip. o made more than $800 million after paying prizes.