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Native American casinos in the spotlight

Wed, May 15, 2:37pm by Staff Writer

President Donald Trump last week found time to tweet about a House bill that would assure a Massachusetts Native American tribe control of 321 acres of land it wants to use for a gambling casino among discussions about jobs in Ohio and shooting victims in Colorado.

The president was against the bill, he wrote, because it was “unfair and doesn’t treat Native Americans equally!”

It is not in keeping with the status quo for presidents to get involved in local tiffs over plans for a 900-room casino, The Brisbane Times reports.

Even though the president has a record for slamming Native American casinos as scams that pose unfair competition to other gambling enterprises, notably his own, Trump’s decision to weigh in on a measure that had strong bipartisan support seemed unusual.

A closer look at House Resolution 312 and the favour it would do for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe reveals a sprawling network of Trump-related interests, from the National Enquirer to a Rhode Island casino company – a small but strikingly intricate example of the ways this president’s business dealings, personal bonds and political alliances can complicate and colour the ordinary doings of government.

On the surface, the matter is a simple dispute over who wants a casino and who doesn’t.

The Mashpee Tribe seeks to build a casino in southeastern Massachusetts.

Trump’s connections to native casinos

If the federal government decreed the land to be the tribe’s sovereign property, the casino would be exempt from many taxes.

But some residents of the town where the casino would be built sued over the project, and after the tribe broke ground, a federal judge sided with the residents, ruling that, because of the history of that parcel of land, the feds didn’t have the authority to guarantee it to the tribe.

The tribe’s site is about 18 miles from Rhode Island, and that state’s politicians aren’t keen to have a new competitor go up against their two casinos, both of which are run by Twin River Worldwide Holdings, a public company with strong Trump ties.

Twin River’s president George Papanier was a finance executive at the Trump Plaza casino hotel in Atlantic City earlier in his area and the casino’s chief marketing officer Phil Juliano also lists experience at a Trump casino on his resume.

For decades, Trump, whose Atlantic City casinos were his first big ventures outside New York – they became some of the biggest failures when they suffered bankruptices in the early 1990s.

In 2000, when New York state considered expanding Native American casinos in the Catskill Mountains north of New York City, Trump, working through his longtime ally Roger Stone, funded a group that paid for TV and print ads accusing prominent members of the Mohawk native American tribe of having mob connections and criminal records.

Trump and Stone didn’t report their spending on the ads as lobbying, as required by the state, and state regulators imposed their largest ever civil penalty of US$250,000 on Trump, who was forced to issue a public apology.

Trump has not always opposed Native American casinos though.

In 1997, he cut a deal with another Connecticut tribe, the Paucatuck Native Americans, who agreed to pay him a management fee in exchange for his effort to win the tribe the federal recognition it needed to open a casino.

In the Mashpee case, Twin River, the operator of the two Rhode Island casinos, has hired Matthew Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union and a vocal Trump supporter, to lobby for it on the land issue.

Schlapp’s wife, Mercedes, is director of strategic communications at the White House.

Matthew Schlapp said last week that his wife played “no role in my advocacy” and that he lobbied against the casino because it was a “terrible idea.”

The lobbyist apparently focused Trump’s attention on the casino bill by connecting it to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who is seeking her party’s presidential nomination and has been for years a favourite target of Trump because of her since-retracted claim to be Native American.

But there is no Senate version of the House resolution, which the House is scheduled to vote on this week, and Warren has made no statement on the casino project.

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