The Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe may clash with the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe over bringing a casino to southeastern Massachusetts.
Will the race for a casino in southeastern Massachusetts pit tribe against tribe?
That's the question many are asking after the announcement Wednesday that the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe of Martha's Vineyard wants to be a serious contender if the state offers casino licenses.
The news heightens the possibility that the Aquinnah's efforts may clash with the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe's plan to bring a casino to Middleboro. Both tribes are focused on southeastern Massachusetts as a location for a casino.
In one scenario, the Mashpee and Aquinnah tribes might end up competing for a state-issued casino license.
"If they were both bidding for same region, they'd be bidding against each other," said Kofi Jones, a spokeswoman for the governor's economic development office.
The Mashpee tribe, however, remains uninterested in a commercial license, according to spokesman Scott Ferson. Instead, tribal leaders want to gain federal approvals that would allow them to open a casino on tax-free, sovereign land.
But even that scenario could be complicated by the Aquinnah tribe, which may be able to open a casino faster by winning a state license and creating competition for the Mashpee's Middleboro casino.
On Wednesday, the Aquinnah tribe announced it will partner with the Seneca Nation of Indians of New York for a casino project.
"We're concentrating our efforts on a commercial casino," said Aquinnah Tribal Chairman Donald Widdis, in an interview after the announcement.
The Seneca, who own and operate two casinos in upstate New York and are working to open a third, would provide help to the Aquinnah with every step of the casino process - from obtaining financing to acquiring a license from the state, according to officials from the two tribes.
Widdis said his tribe plans to build a $1 billion casino and is still looking for a site.
The Mashpee and the Aquinnah are the state's only federally recognized Indian tribes. Both are weighing their options amid the push by Gov. Deval Patrick to legalize casino gambling and offer licenses for three casinos - one each in the southeastern, western and metropolitan Boston regions of the state.
Patrick is strongly opposed to having two casinos in the same region of the state, said Clyde Barrow, a gambling researcher at UMass-Dartmouth.
If the Mashpees are able to get their casino in Middleboro open first, the governor may decide not to offer a license for southeastern Massachusetts at all, Barrow said.
Patrick could then demand some portion of the Mashpee's casino revenues in return for keeping away the competition, according to Barrow.
That could force the Aquinnah to look elsewhere for a location, Barrow noted.
The tribe has been seeking to open a casino for more than a decade - notably in New Bedford - although past efforts involved the idea of putting a casino on sovereign tribal land.
The Aquinnah prefer southeastern Massachusetts as a location, but tribal leaders have said they are considering other regions of the state, including western Massachusetts.
The Aquinnah have previously signed a "memorandum of understanding" to partner on economic development initiatives with Northeast Realty Associates LLC, which holds options to buy property both in Palmer and on New Bedford's waterfront for a casino.
Leon Dragone, president of Northeast Realty, said he has also met with the Seneca tribe in the past. He declined to comment on the specifics of the talks, but said he expects the dialogue between his company and tribal leaders to continue on the casino issue.
Enterprise correspondent Alice Elwell contributed to this report.